Monday, December 23, 2013

Online Privacy: Some Ways To Protect Yourself

Some joked that the Internet (or WiFi) is now part of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which is true to certain extend if your work actually involves you accessing the internet on a daily basis. While the internet is great, it does have a darker side to it.

Online privacy has become a major issue in the past few years or so. Simply because people are ignorant, and not many people even know what it actually means. In layman terms, if your online privacy settings are weak or set to "default", most of your personal information from websites you visit, from social media content you consume on Facebook, Twitter, etc becomes public information.

Recently, there was a case of a website showcasing a collection of photos of girls (some of which are almost nude) to which most of them are underage. It's shocking because these girls innocently upload their photos on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, without realizing that once it's up, it's available to the public. When I refer to public here means anyone (not necessary someone you're friends with or know) will be able to save your photo or use it for malicious intend. You can read about the full story here.

In a recent article from Social Media Today, you can see that 67% of Facebook users check their privacy settings only once a year or never at all, and that 50% never ever used the "View As.." function to know how others view your profile (I'm sure some of you don't even know that this feature exist on Facebook right?).

Photo credit:

Another thing about photos being uploaded on the internet, they do carry location information of where the picture was taken if you use a mobile device. There used to be a site called (service now disabled) which you can upload a photo and they can show you exactly where the picture was taken. This is possible because mobile devices allows location services where you would use it for apps like maps and check-ins (Facebook & Foursquare). This will allow wannabe stalkers to know which places you usually frequent and plan their "attack".

Be vigilant!

Do remember, while the internet is great, there are some steps that you can take to minimize the abuse of cyber stalkers.

  1. Review you Facebook privacy settings. Create groups and permissions of who gets to see what content and photos. For me, I only allow friends or people I know well enough to view my photos. To acquaintances, I only allow them to view selected updates. Once you created the groups, read this: on how to select who to view what content.
  2. It does not mean that you have to change your profiles to "protected / private" mode. What I post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are very different. I post photos of my family and friends on Facebook simply because I have privacy and permission settings to control who views them. As for Twitter and Instagram, I chose not to post photos of my family simply because I would like these profiles to remain public and I wouldn't want the public to start stealing photos especially that of my family members.
  3. Be careful of "Check Ins". "Checking-in" can be fun (especially on Foursquare), but it can also be dangerous. Only allow people you know and trust know where you are. The easiest way to avoid this is by looking through your Foursquare friend list. Remove anyone who you think you do not know well enough as a precaution. Only add friends who you know.
  4. Blogging only of the past. I know this is something rather hard for people to do especially if they are going to an exciting destination or some place really nice. But think about it, if I want to take advantage of that, all I have to do is to read where you will be going and on what date and time in order for me to plan my "attack". In my view, if you must blog about it, limit the information about date, time and with who for security reasons. The best is to only blog about past events to avoid the hassle.
  5. Check your privacy / security settings regularly. As services like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram changes their privacy policy from time to time (and they don't usually inform users until someone discovers it), it is important to always check your privacy settings from regularly. Checking once every 2-3 months would be a good habit. 

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