Posts tagged privacy

Facebook and Privacy: The Continuing Saga


Facebook keeps making its social ads more social. Don’t want to be associated with that? Step through this Mashable slideshow for information about how to opt out of social ads on Facebook.

Looking for a new job? How would you react if your potential employer asked for your Facebook password? Right now that’s legal in all 50 states. How would you handle that request?

Zonealarm provides an infographic that sums up social media privacy habits, based on Pew research. Take a look–which parts reflect your practices?

Facebook It Is A-Changin


I’ve been using Facebook’s new Timeline for almost a week, and within about a day I quickly decided that I like it. It’s a fun and interesting way to present Profile information. (Now, if only they’d do something else with the News Feed, which has turned into an ugly, cluttered mess.) And no, you do not have to pay to get Timeline.

But there are other changes, and you’ll want to know about them, too. Here are a few to keep in mind:

And in related news:

now requires you to log in with Facebook.

But if (like me) you have lousy taste in music and want to hide that, you can.

How Much Privacy Do You Have?


You are here

What does privacy mean in an age where so many of us share everything in public? If you don’t want everyone to know everything, here are a few things to take a look at:

Geolocating and photos

First, check your camera. As this Webroot post explains, newer cameras include geolocation info in the metadata. If you don’t want people to know where you are, turn that feature off. And if you’ve got a smartphone, for these purposes I’m including that in the category “camera.”

Privacy settings

You’ve probably seen your Facebook friends (including me, if you’re friends with me) post status updates about changes to privacy settings. Go look at them again and make sure that what you share is going only to those people you want to see it. In the upper right-hand corner, you’ll see “Account” with a drop-down arrow. Select “Account Settings” and then go through each of the categories on the left to make sure that you’ve properly limited access to your account. Remember to remove apps you’re not using. Then go back to that drop-down menu and select “Privacy Settings.” If it seems like you’re repeating yourself, that’s okay–it’s good to be thorough. Do this on other sites you use, too. The organization may be a little different, but the overall issue is constant.


One of the circles on Google+ is “Public.” I think it might behoove Google to come up with another label for that circle, because any time you choose “Public” rather than “Friends” or “Acquaintances” or “People who also have lhasa apsos” (or whatever circle names you’ve invented), that post is going to wind up searchable via Google’s main page. What happens in Google+ may not stay in Google+, so don’t select “Public” unless you’re okay with the whole world seeing it. Because they just might.

Your whereabouts

Geolocation games and services like foursquare and SCVNGR can be a lot of fun, but pay attention to who knows where you are. It’s not that hard to track someone’s movements throughout the day. When that’s not just a pattern but real-time, it’s worth thinking about how much of that you really want to share, and with whom. Remember that kid in junior high who you thought was your friend, but turned out to be the jerk who stole things out of your backpack? Chances are good that many of us still have one of those friends–we just haven’t realized it yet. And do you know everyone they know? It’s not paranoid to keep in mind that you don’t actually know everything about everyone–so why does everyone need to know everything about you?

Start with the idea that it’s possible for people to find you and your words and photos. And then consider how much you want to hand to them directly. It’s a personal choice–just make an informed one.

Photo by Quasimondo, via Flickr.

Social Media Background Checks and You


When I started working with my current employer, I had to have a background check. The reason why is a bit ridiculous, in my opinion–apparently it has nothing to do with, say, data security (I’ve never had that kind of job), and everything with a failure to properly check references. So now, instead of doing a more thorough job of verifying the claims on resumes, we all get fingerprinted. Make what you will of that.

There’s a new kind of background check in town, and it makes those “be careful what you post” warnings sound a bit less paranoid. Social Intelligence, a one-year-old startup, conducts “social media background checks” for employers, collecting information available for the past seven years.

The idea is that you sign a waiver and the screening company reviews your social media presence, reporting back to the hiring organization–but leaving out information that can be discriminatory, such as race, pregnancy, disabilities, and so on. The benefit for the hiring organization is that they’re buffered from discrimination claims. The benefit for you is . . . well, I guess the benefit for you is that the interview remains the key point at which you might face discrimination in the hiring process.

So what kind of information are they collecting? That depends on what the employer wants. According to the company’s website:

Social Intelligence Corp solely generates reports based on employer pre-defined criteria, both positive and negative. Negative examples include racist remarks or activities, sexually explicit photos or videos, and illegal activity such as drug use. Positive examples include charitable or volunteer efforts, participation in industry blogs, and external recognition.

At the same time, this doesn’t remove the possibility for individual bias, personal interpretation, or simple human error. As Kelsey Blair writes for Social Times:

Who determines what constitutes aggressive or discriminatory? Is it participation in a Facebook group? It could be. Is it angry status updates? Absolutely. And who gets to decide? The good folks at Social Intelligence Corp, of course. According to Drucker “since our team are in fact human beings, they are able to discern to the best degree possible what ‘explicit’ means.” And what discriminatory means. And what violent means.

In writing about the process, the New York Times says that the review also may look for “flagrant displays of weapons or bombs and clearly identifiable violent activity.”

Here’s an example of where discretion comes in. What counts as “flagrant display of weapons”? Is it a picture of a soldier deployed in a war zone? Someone teaching their son or daughter about gun safety on a firing range? A group of friends getting ready to go hunting? A disgruntled employee outside the boss’s office door? That seems like a pretty wide range of behavior to me, but someone else might not make that distinction. And since a photo is literally a single moment in time, how do people conducting background checks know what the context is?

So those are some of the issues related to social media background searches. The next question: what do you do about it?

Well, to begin with, be aware that when you use social media, you are choosing how you present yourself to the world, and that the world may not see what you intend to show. That’s true regardless of whether the person looking is a potential employer or your Aunt Edna.

Next, take a look at your privacy settings. These firms are going to be looking at what they can see–you’re not handing over your login information.

And consider what information you’re providing employers to begin with. In his Gizmodo article “I Flunked My Social Media Background Check. Will You?” Mat Honan writes:

It only uses the data an employer gives it to run a search. This tends to be standard issue information from your resume. Your name, your university, your email address and physical location. Which means that, ultimately, you are the one supplying all the data for a background check. Because you are the one who supplies that data to your employer. And that means you should be smart about what kinds of contact information you put on your resume.

Your personal email address, especially if you’ve had it for a long time, could have all kinds of things tied to it that you’d rather an employer not see. Spend the nothing it costs to set up a dedicated job search email account, and list that one on your c.v.

Social media background checks are here to stay. Social Intelligence isn’t the only company providing them (a quick Google search turned up at least one other company), and the FTC is fine with the practice. So take a look at what you’re putting out there, who you’re sharing it with, and what’s on your resume. But you were doing that anyhow, right?

Privacy is History


At least, it is if we’re talking about the Web. Yes, you can select privacy settings that reduce the likelihood that information will be spread. But those aren’t guarantees. So why not just assume that anything you post can be spread, and factor that into your decision whether to post it?

Sadly, Representative Andrew Weiner is learning this in front of all of us. And what makes this particularly sad is that he’s not the first politician to be in this kind of situation.

So be smarter and better informed. Make wiser choices. What you share is up to you. Well, mostly.

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