I often get questions from friends and colleagues about online privacy as a whole.  Generally the question goes like this, “Hey, what is the easiest way to protect your privacy online?”  Funny enough, that is really one of the easiest questions to answer.  Here goes…  If you don’t want something seen on the Internet, don’t post it.  It really is that simple.

That being said, here are some good pointers to remember when you are posting to your favorite social media site:

      • NEVER post your schedule or vacation plans on your wall or anywhere else online unless you want your home broken into.  That also means that using your phone to post those great pictures from Hawaii while you are out having fun is NOT a good idea.  Although it may be cool to share with your friends while you are learning to surf the big waves, it also gives ANYONE a perfect opportunity to check out your home while you are thousands of miles away.
      • NEVER post personal information on your social media site that you wouldn’t post on the wall of the Men’s Room at your favorite bar.  One way or another, the information that you post on your wall gets seen by everyone you have decided to include into your life.  This means friends, not so much friends, colleagues and co-workers, and in many cases, your boss.  Think twice about calling in sick to work and then posting an hour later about your trip to Disneyland.  Not only will it get you fired, it will also make it nearly impossible to collect unemployment while you try to get your next job.
      • NEVER post information about your job online.  There are several reasons why.  First and foremost, posting private company information about a planned company expansion, layoffs, or inter-departmental information can result in employment termination or even be considered a breach of a non-disclosure agreement that you may have signed with the company.  There are also other factors such as disclosing a raise or promotion prior to the company making an official announcement, which could cause problems for the company or be advantageous for your competition.  Many companies are now forbidding employees from using their Facebook and other social media accounts at work all together.
      • BE CAREFUL POSTING PICTURES!  More than 40% of all social media users do not restrict access to their profiles.  That means that there are over 30 million users out there posting pictures of their families on the Internet without regard to the safety of their families.  Accordingly, even those who do restrict access to their pictures, are still posting pictures of their children with identifying information such as their school, their names, license plate information in the background, or even worse, their home address in the background.  What is even worse than that, is if my child is friends with your child and you innocently post pictures of my child with yours, and I didn’t give you permission to do so.  Six months later I see the picture floating around on your Facebook account and the damage is done.  There are so many combinations of what can happen here, with the worst being parents who think it is cute to post pictures of their newborn baby or young toddler on the bare skin rug or in the bath tub.  Remember this school of thought.  IF YOU POST IT ONLINE, IT IS FOREVER!
      • CHECK YOUR CAMERA GPS SETTINGS!  This is one that I see ALL OF THE TIME!  In fact, I saw it so much that I posted this warning out to my Facebook wall a few months back and listed the names of about a dozen of my high school friends whose camera settings included GPS information that led right to their front door!!  Would you believe out of the dozen or so people that I mentioned in my post that only two of them made changes and the other ten are still posting pictures of their children and family that give EVERYONE their home address?  Make sure before you post that your camera is not giving this information out.  It is REALLY EASY to check.  Open the image in Internet Explorer and “Right-Click” on the image.  In the image information, about 3/4 of the way down you will see something called “GPS Information”.  If the information is there, that means that EVERYONE else can see this too.  If it is not, then you are safe.
      • DO NOT POST YOUR HOME PHONE NUMBER OR ADDRESS ONLINE!  This is another big one, especially for those who still use home phone numbers from their local service providers.  Reverse look-up directories can provide an address if you give them a phone number to research.  If you are smart, get a post office box or third party mail handler and use it for EVERYTHING.  Identity theft is so abundant nowadays that using even the smallest amount of information gives them almost enough to steal your identity.  Don’t wait until it happens to you to protect yourself.
      • NEVER SHARE YOUR PASSWORD!  This seems so obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how often this happens.  You give your password to Facebook to a friend so he/she can upload your vacation photos for you.  Six months later this friend gets mad at you and you now have a serious security risk.  Same thing goes for that boyfriend or girlfriend.  Today the relationship is GREAT.  Tomorrow the relationship goes bad and you have a compromised Facebook account.  Since more than 70% of all social media users use the same password for multiple accounts, Facebook and Twitter, Skype, and all of your other accounts now have the potential of being compromised.  Keep your password to yourself.  Share it with nobody!
      • BE CAREFUL POSTING INFORMATION!! Just about everyone has entered in password hint information on your banking website, or other applicable website.  You use this information as a way of restoring your account in the event that you forget your password.  Yet, few people realize that posting a picture of you and your puppy when you were five years old with the caption “Me and Bucky” just gave someone access to your Bank of America checking account.  The same goes for posting pictures of you and your grandmother, listing who she is and what her last name is.  It is also a good idea to NEVER use the question “What high school did you attend” as one of your password restore questions.  THINK SMART WHEN YOU POST ONLINE!

These pointers are a good start to what you should be careful with while surfing the Internet online.  Understand that the entire premise behind social media is sharing information about yourself.  That being said, the information that you fill out in that cute poll of “which celebrity you are most like” often gives far too much information about yourself to others who you have no idea about”.  In turn, that information is sold and distributed to marketing agencies, etc. and before you know it, your most personal information about yourself and your preferences are sitting in the hands of a man sitting behind a laptop in Vietnam selling your information to others.  The thought is frightening.  The best thing to remember while surfing online, “When in doubt, leave it out“.  Those are words to live by.