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Top five common social networking privacy mistakes

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by Staff Writer

Redhead woman using computer laptop at home stressed with hand on head, shocked with shame and surprise face, angry and frustrated. Fear and upset for mistake.

Two recent court cases demonstrated why privacy controls are so important on social networking websites. Both cases revolved around the popular social networking site, Facebook. Each had entirely different outcomes because of a simple difference in privacy settings.

In the first case, an artist sued a clothing manufacturer for using his designs in violation of his contract. The apparel company asked to have information from the artist’s social networking pages turned over for the court case. A federal appeals judge ruled that because the artist’s privacy controls were set to “private,” the plaintiff didn’t intend the information for public consumption. The apparel company was not granted access.

In the second case, a woman sued a chair company for injuries sustained while using their product. The chair company wanted to use images and posts from the plaintiff’s Facebook page to prove she was not as disabled as she indicated. A judge ruled that her Facebook privacy controls were set to public, so the plaintiff intended public dissemination of her information. He ordered Facebook to release the information to the defendants for use in court.

Both cases relied on the same 1986 electronic communications law, but the differences in the plaintiffs’ privacy settings changed the outcomes of each. Clearly, one person made a fundamental mistake in selecting their social networking privacy settings.

This article examines the five most common social networking privacy mistakes that people make when setting the privacy controls on social network websites.

When you sign up, social networks set your privacy controls to default

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When you sign up for a social network, the network sets your privacy controls to its default settings. The default settings vary from network to network, so it is unwise to assume that all of your information is private unless you indicate otherwise. Some social networks default privacy settings to “public,” meaning that anyone on the entire Internet can see the information posted on your page. In order to achieve the right level of privacy protection, utilize your privacy controls and take the time to set them appropriately.

Read the social network’s privacy control guidelines

Each social network has its own unique system of privacy controls. This can be confusing, and you may inadvertently set your privacy protection in a way that you don’t intend. To avoid this, read the networks’ guidelines for privacy settings, which are usually contained within the privacy policy. Because each network uses its own terminology, this may help you understand whom you are sharing your information with. For example, your Facebook privacy settings can be set to everyone, friends of friends, friends only, or custom. MySpace privacy controls can be set to anyone, only my friends and anyone over 18, or only my friends.

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Social networks set their controls to “public”

Many people mistakenly believe that “public,” “anyone,” and “everyone” settings apply only to people on the social network, but nothing could be further from the truth. In the case of social networks, everyone means everyone. If you set your profile to public, everyone, or a similar setting, it means that you are making your profile information available to everyone on the Internet. Opt for privacy settings that make your information available only to people with whom you wish to share it.

Don’t overlook communications’ settings

Another common mistake that people make on social networking websites is the failure to use communication settings that control who can contact you. MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks all allow you to block specific users from seeing your information or communicating with you via the social network. In some cases, social networks also allow only people who can verify they know you to contact you or send you friend requests.

Don’t accept blanket settings on your social networking

One of the most common social networking privacy mistakes is to accept blanket privacy settings on your social networking accounts. There are some pieces of information you may wish to protect such as personal contact information, date of birth, hometown, or other private data. Most social networks allow you to customize your privacy settings so that you make some information more private than other others. Use these custom settings for maximum privacy protection. Many social networks also allow you to set any post, picture or comment with custom privacy settings for greater privacy protection.

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Protect your electronic privacy

When you have your privacy controls appropriately set on social networks, you need to take an active role in your ongoing electronic privacy. Here are some tips.

  • One of the biggest mistakes you can make when you’ve carefully cultivated your electronic privacy is to accept friend requests from people you don’t know. When you do that, you are inviting people you know nothing about to share in your private information.
  • When your friends share information about you on their networks that you’d rather keep private, contact them and ask that they remove the information. Some social networks may also allow you to remove any tags that your friends use to identify you in their posts. Familiarize yourself with this process.
  • Social networking sites frequently change their privacy controls. Stay abreast of any changes to privacy controls by regularly reading the network’s privacy policy and monitoring your personal privacy settings.
  • Realize that social network “applications” may use your private information differently than the social networks do. When you use an application, read their privacy policies to assure you are not unintentionally leaking personal information.
  • Don’t be afraid to block specific users or set individual privacy settings for certain sensitive posts and information.

If you’d like additional peace of mind, consider a service like ReputationDefender’s MyPrivacy, which monitors your private information, helps you to keep it private, and navigate these common social networking privacy mistakes.