Protecting Your Privacy Online

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This article was originally published on Newsline’s blog on June 5, 2011

Every now and then there’s an uproar about Facebook’s ever-changing privacy policy and how users’ privacy settings automatically change as a result.

Facebook started off with making sure others had restricted access to you. People couldn’t search you if you didn’t want them to. They couldn’t view your profile picture. They could not “friend” you.

But all that has changed.

Now you don’t have the option of disallowing your friends’ friends to try to befriend you, or to make sure nobody can view your display picture (or copy it – yes, all pictures on Facebook can be copied by others if they have access to them). But what is really, really creepy is that Facebook allows random people to poke you!

Well now, here’s another cause for concern.

If your account happens to be temporarily locked, Facebook allows you two options to gain access to it. Here is what I discovered yesterday, after I was locked out of my own account. My first option was to answer my secret question: standard stuff.

The second option was troubling, though. Facebook offered me the option of identifying my friends. A series of three pictures was displayed with the common denominator being friends tagged in all of the pictures. Below each of the photos, in multiple-choice format, were five names. I had to click the right name for each tagged friend. Facebook informed me that it was satisfied with my answers, and I passed. Seemingly, more pictures would be displayed if one of the initial friend questions is answered incorrectly, so as to rule out ‘innocent’ mistakes or alternatively confirm that the person seeking access is not the genuine owner.

However, the images that Facebook displayed were not only pictures from my albums or pictures that I’d been tagged in but also seemingly pictures from the albums of my “friends.” This would make it especially easy for someone I know to pass the same tests.

There is much debate the world over on how companies that own social networking sites (as well as email service providers) use your personal information. As per Facebook’s privacy policy, your information is theirs to use as they see fit. And if you use third-party applications, i.e. if you’re busy farming away using Farmville, you have compromised your information because you have allowed them unfettered access to it.

The business of buying and selling people’s information is huge. And while your account is at risk to the dubious activities of hackers, stalkers and sometimes even people you know, often your personal information is also being mined by the businesses that you have trusted to safeguard it.

There are basic precautions that you can take. Here are some basic dos and don’ts as far social networking goes:

  • Do not make personal contact information (i.e. phone number, address, etc.) available online
  • Do not give your location
  • Do not upload things that would compromise you in any way
  • Do not put information you don’t want others to have access to because, remember, what goes up on the Internet stays up there, even if you delete it.

For more tips on privacy, see Bolo Bhi’s Digital Security Guides 

 

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