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Is Anything Private Anymore?

Is Anything Private Anymore?

Renee Weisman | Excelle

Once upon a time when you wrote something down, you had a reasonable amount of control over its distribution. People could find you in the phone book if you chose to list your number (and you had to pay for long distance information).

Employers would check references by making phone calls but you could choose who they contacted. When you got your photos developed at the store, you got the negatives back with them. Identity theft was possible but usually something you read about in a novel.

Today whether it be social networking, texting, emails, googling or cameras on telephones, information about you can end up distributed far beyond your original audience. Your boss may have the right to check your texts, a hiring manager may visit your Facebook page, coop boards may google you before accepting you as a tenant, your company can check the websites you’ve visited using their intranet and computers, and even donations you make to charity can end up in an internet search. You may get friend requests from people you don’t know on Facebook or contact requests from strangers on LinkedIn. Is anything private anymore?

Ben Franklin once said, “ Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead”. The only way to truly keep something private is to do just that, keep it to yourself. That being said, there are a number of steps you might want to take as you take advantage of all the internet and technology has to offer to protect your privacy.

First and foremost, only put information you want others to know into the public domain. And if it could be problem, push the delete key rather than send. If you are writing an email, remember it can be forwarded (even if you write do not forward or otherwise protect forwarding, there are ways around it). If your company owns your computer and internet, they may have the right to read what you wrote so keep personal and private information elsewhere.

Use passwords, PINS and other security measures and change them regularly. Don’t use something obvious like your birthdate, your house number or your child’s name. Don’t use the same password for everything. I had a friend whose spouse checked his telephone messages while they were going through a messy divorce because he never thought to change his password. Don’t click “save password” on websites or mail sites. Don’t leave your computer, phone, iPad, or other device powered on and unattended.

Spend time checking out the privacy settings on your social networking sites. Whether you are on Facebook, MySpace, Excelle or another social networking site, understand the privacy setting options. If you only want your friends to be able to see certain information, make sure you check the right boxes. You can make your contact information private or public. If you are using Facebook or MySpace or other networking sites for business and personal use, you might want to consider having two accounts, one from your business email and one from your personal email.

Don’t use your real birthday when you sign up for a site. I have a made up one and always use it, just in case I am asked for some reason (like forgetting a password for a site).

Periodically search for yourself but also ask others to do it from their computer or id. Some sites recognize you when you log on but show different information when someone else searches for you. Check what your public profile looks like on each site and especially look to see if it shows your friends. People can befriend your friend and learn about you in a “backdoor” fashion.

The key point of all this is to exercise reasonable caution. The Internet, social networking and wireless world enables you to stay in touch in ways we never imagined ten years ago. You can reconnect with old classmates, coworkers and childhood friends. You can spread your business information essentially for free. Just take care to use appropriate password and privacy settings and never put anything “out there” that you wouldn’t want your employer, coworkers, family or strangers to know.

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