Lessons to be learned from Facebook privacy changes

The recent Facebook privacy changes, the public outcry they caused and the petition by a group of U.S. senators to the Federal Trade Commission to restrict the amount of personal information that online social networks can use, have brought into the spotlight the question of just how much the revealed information can hurt you.

Highly personal information such as a full birth date can help cyber thieves, and your street address, phone number and a status that says that you’re on vacation can be used by burglars. Revealing your children’s names and photos can help child predators. Social networks can expose the users to abuse – whether from harassment, scams, identity theft or malware infection. These are all things that we are aware of deep down inside, but often choose not to think about because of the it-won’t-happen-to-me conviction.

Well, you should think again, because – according to ConsumerReports.org – in the past two years, American consumers have been stripped of $4.5 billion due to cybercrime.

Among other things, a great number of employers have begun using social networks as a screening method for future employees and to keep tabs on the current ones. A lot of things that you think are just harmless fun can keep you from getting or keeping a job.

Yes, the time has come when users should really think long and hard about the information they put online, because the Facebook privacy change issue has demonstrated that we can’t rely on social networks to keep our best interests in mind.

But, the best part of all of this is that this is one thing we can control. We don’t require wide or deep knowledge about the technology used, just a little effort to inform ourselves about the privacy features and a realistic view of the Internet business dynamics.

In the end, you are your best defense. It helps to think about all the information you put on these networks as available to everyone, so that you can discern what information you really don’t want anyone to see and to misuse.

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