Social Networking Privacy

120209Social networking is about sharing information, opening up your life to new people, and building a virtual community. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep your eyes open. As social networks like Facebook and Twitter become an integral part of our daily online lives, a whole new array of potential threats to our online security have emerged. Here are some general tips to help keep you safe.

Remember who your friends are – and who your friends of friends are too!
As REALTORS® you know it is important to address the needs of your audience when showing a house or answering an RFP. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time or in anger can lead to repercussions down the road. Before you post an update, think about who will see this – without the help of your facial expressions or the tone in your voice to convey your true meaning. Also remember just because you’ve posted this to your select group of friends, if they comment on you post, their friends will be able to see what you have written or the picture you’ve posted.

Be info smart
Just as you wouldn’t post your Social Security number online, don’t post your date of birth (or at least eliminate the year). And what are you using for your passwords? If it’s your pet’s name or your children’s names, you might want to reconsider – eventually you will talk about them online. Similarly, that family tree you posted or that link to Great Aunt Millie’s genealogical work is going to certainly contain your mother’s maiden name. Be careful!

Also think about what contact information you want to include. Web programs called spiders troll the internet grabbing email addresses that are resold and spammed. Consider listing your website address instead, or creating a free email account just for social networking.

Be wary of quizzes and games
They’re fun, and you can see how you stack up against your friends, but it’s amazing the amount of information they can gather as part of their terms of service. When you sign up for a quiz, typically a notice pops up to declare that interacting with the application requires opening access to information such as: “access will let [the application] pull your profile information, photos, your friends’ info, and other content that it requires to work.” Pretty broad rights.

Use privacy options
Facebook provides very granular privacy tools that are useful to spend some time reviewing. Start by dividing your friends into separate lists. You might consider creating lists for ‘work’, ‘good friends’, ‘family’, ‘clients’, etc.

Once you’ve created your lists, go through your friends and add them to the appropriate list. Friends can be on more than one list or none of them. Your friends are not able to see how they have been sorted.

Once you have sorted your friends, click on settings in the upper right corner and then on privacy settings. There are many areas of Facebook where you can control what you chose to share. Let’s start with Profile. You can edit many portions of your information here so that it is visible from everyone to no one but yourself. If you have used the list function to sort your friends you can also exclude certain lists from having access. So if you don’t want your coworkers to see photos that your friends might post, you could exclude everyone you listed in ‘work’. The granularity is pretty extreme and appears to be getting even more so. Facebook also give you a link on the page to view your profile as one of your friends will see it. This is a nice way to test if your changes are going to have the desired effect. Here is a quick YouTube video that shows how to set up lists and set privacy.

Hijacking and Phishing
Just as other websites can suffer from hijacking and phishing attacks so to can Facebook and Twitter. Most of us know not to send money to Nigerian bank officials with poor grammar, but what if your long-lost high school chum suddenly asked you for a loan? Be wary. If someone is going to ask you for a favor, it’s not likely they would do it through Twitter or Facebook. Remember, if a request, post or link oesn’t sound like something your friend would say or be interested in, be careful.

Keep your computer and software up to date
Similar to the above, hijackers and phishers will sometimes gain access to your system via a request to update your Flash or Adobe reader software. Clicking through the link will take you to a mal-ware infested website. Always go to adobe’s site on your own to update, never via a link. Keep your browser up to date too.

Watch out for TinyURLs and shortURLs
Twitter posts have a maximum of 140 characters. As some website links can be pretty long, Twitter automatically converts all web addresses into shortened links using Unfortunately with these shortened links the user doesn’t always know where the link is pointing. Although security measures have been put in place to help spot malicious links, it’s not 100% effective. Tweetdeck, a popular application for Twitter, provides a ‘Show preview information for short URLs’ option, which offers some protection. Firefox also offers an extension you can add to the browser called ‘LongURL’.

Remember whatever you do to protect your privacy, it could fail
Finally, regardless of what privacy options you put in place, assume they will fail and the whole world will be able to see everything. Will a determined hacker target your accounts? Probably not, but you never know. Only share what you feel comfortable letting everyone know about.


Senior Information Specialist

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