There are many ways that information on social networks can be used for purposes other than what the user intended.
Below are some practical tips to help users minimize the privacy risks when using social networks.
Be aware that these tips are not 100% effective. Any time you choose to engage with social networking sites, you are taking certain risks.
Common sense, caution and skepticism are some of the strongest tools you have to protect yourself.
Registering an Account
1. Use a strong password different from the passwords you use to access other sites. See PRC’s 10 Rules for Creating a Hacker-Resistant Password
2. Never provide a work-associated email to a social network, especially when signing up. Consider creating a new email address strictly to connect with your social networking profile(s).
3. Consider not using your real name, especially your last name. Be aware that this may violate the terms of service of some social networks.
5. Be sure to keep strong antivirus and spyware protection on your computer. See Fact Sheet 36: Securing Your Computer to Maintain Your Privacy
6. Provide only information that is necessary or that you feel comfortable providing.
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Retrieved August 4, 2014, from https://www.privacyrights.org/privacy-rights-fact-sheets
General Tips for Using Social Networks
1. Become familiar with the privacy settings available on any social network you use. On Facebook, make sure that your default privacy setting is "Friends Only". Alternatively, use the "Custom" setting and configure the setting to achieve maximum privacy.
2. Don’t share your birthday, age, or place of birth. This information could be useful to identity thieves and to data mining companies.
4. Be careful when you click on shortened links. Consider using a URL expander (as an application added to your browser or a website you visit) to examine short URLs before clicking on them. Examples of URL expanders include LongURL, Clybs URL Expander and Long URL Please.
5. Be very cautious of pop-up windows, especially any that state your security software is out of date or that security threats and/or viruses have been detected on your computer.
6. Delete cookies, including flash cookies, every time you leave a social networking site. See PRC Fact Sheet 18: Privacy and the Internet
7. Remember that whatever goes on a network might eventually be seen by people not in the intended audience. Think about whether you would want a stranger, your mother or a potential boss to see certain information or pictures.
8. Don’t publicize vacation plans, especially the dates you’ll be traveling.
9. If you use a location-aware social network, don’t make public where your home is because people will know when you are not there.
10. Don’t post your address, phone number or email address on a social network. Remember scam artists as well as marketing companies may be looking for this kind of information. If you do choose to post any portion of this, use privacy settings to restrict it to approved contacts.
12. Be wary of requests for money, even if they are from contacts you know and trust. If a contact’s account is compromised, a scam artist may use his or her name and account to attempt to defraud others through bogus money requests.
13. Prune your "friends" list on a regular basis. It's easy to forget who you've friended over time, and therefore who you are sharing information with.
14. Remember that nothing that you post online is temporary. Anything you post can be cached, stored, or copied and can follow you forever.
15. Check your privacy settings often. Privacy policies and default settings may change, particularly on Facebook.
Read more helpful tips at EFF's Top 12 Ways to Protect Your Online Privacy.
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Retrieved August 4, 2014, from https://www.privacyrights.org/