Managing Online Privacy

Keeping your personal details and identity private online is a hot topic and there are hundreds of other articles that discuss thousands of aspects of online privacy and advise different methods to keep yourself ‘safe’. This article is just a collection of my thoughts on online privacy, I’ll try to give some advice in here too to try to help people learn.

I’m not much of a privacy freak online. With very little effort, anyone could get a lot of information about me. But, I’m aware of what’s out there and I’m comfortable with it. I’m pretty sensible (if I do say so myself) so I know what I can/should share and what I shouldn’t. Thinking about if you want to (or should) share something, before posting it to the Internet is the first step. There’s less to manage if you don’t post things you’d be uncomfortable with people seeing.

An example of how some people are *facepalm* stupid about sharing their details is @NeedADebitCard. I just had to check that this is still running and 19hours was it’s most recent retweet so it definitely is. Basically, this account just retweets people that post pictures of their bank cards on Twitter. If you’re unsure; DO NOT DO THIS. If you feel the need to post pictures of bank cards, driving licences, passports, etc. then cover up your numbers!

Basically, as I see it, the problem with online privacy is a user issue. The root of the user issues is education. People don’t know what and how to manage themselves online. People assume that the tools (websites, etc.) will manage it for them. They assume that the default settings are the best. They forget that there are people on the internet outside of their network of contacts. Or, they just don’t care (maybe I’m actually in this group and I’m in denial).

Whilst reading Amber Case’s Illustrated Dictionary of Cyborg Anthropology I came across a phenomenon I hadn’t been aware of before. It’s called “super-logoff”. This is where people would deactivate their entire Facebook account while they were not actually using it to defend their online identity from people from posting or tagging them in things which they would not approve of. It’s easy to see why people might do this, but it’s ridiculously drastic.

Facebook is a good example mainly because it has the finest grained controls. Twitter is just public or private, Google Plus is basically just circles (which I personally think is the best method, but that’s neither here nor there). I tend to notice people are fairly polarised on Facebook, either “Lock everything down, no one but friends should see anything” or “Defaults are best” (meaning that everything’s public because Facebook are like that!).

In reality, neither of these options are how people actually consider their privacy. If you skip work to go to a gig, you might want to hide the statuses and photos from your boss, but let the rest of your friends see it. Or you might want to hide the evidence of that big night out from your family. Colleagues and family automatically put into lists so long as they’ve got their employment on their profile or listed you under family on their profile. Lists are the best way to manage sharing on Facebook (the idea probably stolen from Google Plus), just keep your lists up-to-date and customise the privacy on statuses, photos, whatever by adding or removing lists. People wouldn’t have any problems if they just learnt how to use the tools properly. Really, the onus should be on Facebook to educate their users on how to do all this.

So, in summary:

  • Think before you post! If you act under the premise that everything is public, you’ll think twice about posting personal things.
  • Learn how to use the privacy settings for each site. It’s all there, make sure you’re using it correctly.
  • Log out, or use the ‘view as’ features, to see what the public can see (and adjust settings accordingly).

Hope that helps someone :)