A few weeks ago I received an e-mail ostensibly from my brother, asking for money. He was ‘stuck in London’ so the note said. Could I send him $250 right away as he had lost his passport. As a social media professional, I knew immediately that this wasn’t my brother; I knew his account had been hacked. Not so for other members of my family who only go online once or twice a week. One sister quickly sent him the money. Luckily for her, Western Union attempted to verify the receiver–and discovered the scam. Whose privacy was most at risk there–my brother’s or my sister’s? I say, both. And, the privacy of all their connections, too.
In a New York Times article about privacy online, this quote from the associate director of the Federal Trade Commission’s privacy division says it all: “Technology has rendered the conventional definition of personally identifiable information obsolete. You can find out who an individual is without it.”
Want to read more about Internet privacy? Check these out:
Truth is, scammers abound on the Web. Your personally identifiable information is not safe, no matter how closely you guard it, and kids seem to be the most clueless about the consequences of sharing. Those embarrassing photos and personal content they share about themselves and their friends can lead to serious problems, far beyond the giggle they’re hoping to achieve. They should know, but they don’t: your name, your photos, your address, even your medical information can be hacked. And, having been hacked, not only do you become a statistic, so does your family and all of your online connections.
They’re unconcerned because they don’t see the big picture. While most adults guard our privacy tightly on those sites, our kids just type away– unaware sometimes that they have failed to set stronger privacy settings on their Facebook page, unconcerned that their message just went out to the whole world. That silly photo of you on Facebook, standing on your head with beer coming out of your nose is funny enough to inspire Aunt Jody to share it on her Facebook page, where one of her friends grabs it to do that same…and now it’s going viral. You can lament, “What will my boss think?” all you want. The damage is done.
I’m left wondering if this predilection to ‘share’ will begin to convince people to be more responsible? Will it begin to convince us to be more careful, knowing that everything we share can and will be viewed by anyone, anywhere, regardless of where we shared it?
And, will our kids learn to embrace the old-school values of respect and responsibility, of giving people the benefit of the doubt, of not sharing embarrassing photos or information because the consequences could backfire? Can we stop bullying by recognizing the lasting effects of every keystroke added to a Facebook or Twitter account?
Maybe. Maybe our kids are watching the way some people wrongly use popular social media tools and wondering how they can make a difference to turn things around.
It’s not that hard to be a better person online. It’s not that hard to stop and think, “Would I want my sister/cousin/mom/uncle/brother/dad, whomever, to share this photo/info if it were about me?”
It’s not hard to actually consider the consequences to the other person and to yourself. Is it?
In the meantime, here are some ways of protecting yourself online–share them with family and friends and make sure your kids understand their importance.
First, create a blog and let the world know who you are. Use your blog to right wrongs, if necessary. Always be polite and truthful–don’t let the trolls bring you down to their level.
The New York Times article referenced at the start of this post ends with this advice, “When you’re doing stuff online, you should behave as if you’re doing it in public–because increasingly, it is.”
When we begin to realize the truth of that statement, when we begin to absorb the meaning of that statement, will we be forced to be better people? Or, will we continue to fall back on the belief that “Those kinds of things only happen to other people?”