I’ve been thinking for a long time about what the topic of my next blog post would be.
As most of you know, I work full time at the University of Guelph, and I support my fiancé with his photography business as a photographer, and I dabble in freelance design and jewellery design.
With so many different creative outlets, I never get to really post or talk about topics I really love, like helping people.
For the longest time, I’ve sat back and observed how we the mass, have rocketed into social media, and I don’t feel we actually realize what information is really out there about ourselves. I’m not talking about the social media versed, or the computer programmer. I’m talking about the average users, my mom, my sisters, my cousins, my aunts and my friends.
I feel people in general don’t realize exactly how the information you are sharing on these social media sites, like facebook and twitter, is being read, stored and indexed.
We know that these sites are used for the greater good like forming online communities reaching together to support crisis, charities, lost children, women and just general information sharing. What about the other side of the information sharing?
I’m going to create scenarios for you, using instances to explain my points, all names are made up.
A young women (I will call her “Air”) in her 20’s, living alone, working in a city, let’s say Toronto, Ontario. Air works as an administrator for a large company downtown Toronto. She lives outside of the Toronto core, and takes the subway into work every day. She takes the same train, same times, every day. She has a close group of girl friends she regularly goes out with. She works out at a gym near her house every other day. All of which she posts about on her facebook, and occasionally will twitter about. She frequently twitters about her favourite bands, she just loves the local music scene and loves posting reviews about what she’s attending next.
Air, has an iphone, she takes it everywhere. It keeps her connected to her friends via texting, online friends via Facebook and family when they call her.
Air, is searchable, vulnerable and stockable and she doesn’t even realize it.
Here is a scenario for you to put it all into perspective:
Air, posts on her facebook wall, “I’m so tired, leaving for work soon, need coffee first”, and twitters a picture of her coffee “Great band last night, late night, result this big coffee #starbucksaveshangover”.
She gets ready same time as yesterday and the day before, coffee in hand, walks down the dark stairs to the subway….
Air, is vulnerable, and she doesn’t even realize it.
Some people may be saying, but my facebook is private and only my friends can see what I post! Well, some time ago, facebook and twitter signed a deal with google exchanging our information for money. The privacy settings on facebook changed, and now instead of everything being defaulted to private, it is default to ‘everyone’ (my boss, we talk about this a lot, he says go to delicious.com and you can search for ‘facebook, twitter, google deal’) this means, not just your friends or networks can see your information, but google too.
Air has 200 facebook friends, out of those 200, 20 of them are her closest friends. They post comments on each other’s wall about meeting up, great times they have, tag each other in pictures, some of her friends moving, bands they see, etc. 10 of those 20 good friends’ privacy settings are set to ‘everyone’. This means that if I search Air’s facebook profile that is locked, I can still see her friends list. I can click on ‘view all’; I can click on each link and look for friends that have an ‘open’ wall. I can then see all the information I want to about Air’s friend’s wall. To which Air has posted “Hi Wind, see you tonight, 8pm at the local bar, I’m totally wearing that red shirt you gave me for Christmas”.
Air is vulnerable, and she doesn’t even realize it.
Air is heading to the local pub, she twitters “just heading out to see bandname at local pub #pubname #bandname”. Air is at the pub now, she’s with Wind (her friend from facebook), She twitters “band is awesome, even from the back of the room #pubname”. Wind posts on twitter “sitting with Air she’s wearing the red shirt I gave her, looks awesome#bandname#pubname”.
Fire, a man at that pub, he’s also following the band’s twitter feed, afterall he is their biggest fan. He follows their twitter posts and “#” searches. He see’s Air’s post and Wind’s post, he looks for a red shirt at the back of the bar, and see’s her sitting there with her friend. He takes her picture with his iphone because he thinks she’s so pretty, and she’s got good taste, she likes the band he loves.
He searches for her name on his iphone through google, and pulls up a locked facebook account profile page that looks like the picture he just took, to which it shows him, her basic information. He knows she’s single, he knows she lives in Toronto, he knows where she works (because she didn’t change her information privacy settings), he does a quick look through her friends list and finds a picture of Wind, Wind’s facebook profile is completely open.
He does a quick scan of Wind’s wall, he now know’s Air goes to starbucks every morning, he knows from one of her posts “Hey Wind, stuck at the “homelocationtermnial” going to be late for work and everything, something wrong with the subway car” where she goes every morning and the approximate area that she lives in.
Fire gets up and walks over to Air, introduces himself and starts a lovely conversation with her and Wind about the band, Toronto and how cute she is. They exchange numbers, Air is flattered that a guy so cute as Fire, seemed so nice!
Fire, takes Air’s phone number and does a canada411.ca reverse phone number lookup, and finds her exact address. He can then use google map’s street view, and he finds her street, complete with a photograph of her home and car in the driveway. He also finds the nearest starbucks, and subway station.
The next morning, Air finds herself leaving the starbucks, and somehow bumps right into Fire, thinking it’s a complete co-incidence. They have a short conversation and she leaves towards the subway.
Air is so vulnerable, and she doesn’t even realize it.
I’ve noticed that women in general, for some reason we divulge a lot of information to our friends online, we don’t realize the vulnerability points that we create for ourselves.
We don’t realize how searchable we are. We haven’t caught up to the fact that our information, our online social outlets aren’t that private. I’m going to repeat that. We havn’t caught up to the fact that our information, our online social outlets aren’t that private. We don’t realize that with even such little information, we can be extremely vulnerable.
I’m not saying don’t use social media, I’m saying we need to be smarter.
If you are using facebook, know what your friends’ privacy settings are, don’t assume everyone is private.
Try logging off of facebook, and searching for yourself. Search for your friends and see if you can find out your information like a stranger could. Then you’ll know how locked down your privacy settings are, and what your friends settings are.
Don’t post information about yourself and where you are going, your information is archived, searchable and index-able.
Never post information about what you are wearing.
Never give strangers your phone number, or email address, specially the guy you just met in the pub.
Sure he’s cute; sure he’s into you right now. How do you know he didn’t just ‘google/twitter/facebook you?’ Your phone number is searchable, and with Google’s new street view, your home is connected to your phone number, photos and all. Complete with a ‘get directions to here ‘ button. If you get talking to someone at a pub/bar, or other place like that, suggest meeting up again at a more public place like a mall courtyard for a coffee, not in the same neighbourhood that you live in either. Take your friend with you.
When you are at an event, and you feel the need to twitter about it, don’t post information about where you are in that room, place etc.
Don’t ever post information about specific places you will be, at specific times.
Change your routine, if you do the same things every day, why not change it up a little? take a later train, walk a different route, be un predictable.
I’ll be posting more often now, and hopefully I’ll go more into details and specifics about online privacy to help people.
Stay safe, be smarter.