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Facebook Disclosure and Privacy Guide

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Be Mindful when using Facebook and other Social Networks

Networking, Business and Friends @ Facebook

Facebook is a very useful tool. Regardless of what people may say and despite its many detractors, Facebook is a very compelling online tool for networking with friends, gathering business contact information, and keeping abreast of information and events shared by the people you care about. It also plugs you into a lot of helpful applications and tools you could use for either entertainment or productivity. Facebook is not going anywhere and it is here to stay. You probably are already aware of the privacy concerns and security issues that plague Facebook. This guide does not focus on those. This guide is centered on security guidelines for disclosures made on Facebook. In other words, things that you should not reveal or share on Facebook. Many of these are common sense, but common sense is not very common nowadays – especially in the many different situations we find ourselves in. Oftentimes, things that would seem like common sense when we are not doing something may be easily thrown out of the window when we are caught up in the middle of things. Please bear with us if this seems fairly obvious.

Know your Friends

Most people let down their guard when they are talking to friends. On Facebook, by default, the privacy settings let you share information on your wall with friends or friends of friends. When we are talking to friends, we bare our soul and we let our guards down. This is okay if the person on the other end is an actual person you know. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, according to a recent survey, a fairly high percentage of the people users add to their Facebook “friends” list would not qualify as real world friends. Either they were referred by a friend of a friend of a friend, people you did not really know or a lot of people just out of the sheer desire to have a huge friend number would add anybody. This creates serious problems for your privacy and this impacts your account security, your financial security in the real world, possibly your reputation, and to some extent the integrity of your identity.

Be Mindful and use Common Sense

Identity theft is a very rampant crime, both offline and online. Many people that you come across over the internet are not always what they appear to be. While all of the things that I have said are fairly common sense, when in the heat of trying to add friends, looking popular, or trying to put up an appearance to gain approval from others, these common-sense tips are thrown out the window. Ultimately, you are in charge of your information and you must take responsibility for your actions. Use this guide responsibly and keep yourself protected.

Rule 1# Never Disclose Your Birthday

When interacting with friends, birthday announcements are fairly commonplace. However, for financial crimes, scammers and identity thieves need your birth year in addition to your birthday. Pay careful attention so that you do not reveal your birth date. The most common ways they can get your birthday are through birthday announcements and when your other friends greet you “happy birthday” on your wall. That gives them the month and the day. When people comment and say, “Hey, happy 40th or happy 20th birthday,” that gives them the year. Why is birth date such a crucial piece of information? This is the cornerstone of identity theft. They need this piece of information so they can replicate your identity to apply for credit cards, other lines of credit, and/or online accounts. They basically will use your name and your information so they can perpetrate online crimes – usually fraud. The baseline is your birth date. What can you do to protect yourself from your birthday being revealed? Never share your age. That is one possible option. Try not to slip up and let it out. That is a very strong piece of advice. Never share your age. Secondly, for your birthday, you may want to move it up a day or set it back a day, not the exact day of your birthday. For people who were born at night or people born early in the morning, they can pretty much get away with this and feel okay. However, if you are born in the middle of the day, then you have to weigh serious concerns about integrity. It is very important to always tell the truth. However, you have to protect yourself as well. You have to weigh the two. The real solution to avoid integrity issues and having to lie about your age or your birth date is to strictly police who your friends are. Add people you truly know–people you have had contact with, people you actually had E-mail communications with, or individuals you physically met. This will result in a clean list of friends – people that you can really trust. Also, set your privacy settings so that only direct friends can see your wall and your information. Friends of friends must not see it. Why is that? Friends of friends can be used by scammers to tease information out of you. It is very important to just deal with friends directly.

Rule 2# Never Share Your Birth Place

This is less common than the threat of sharing your birthday and age because, most of the time, people do not really publicly post this information. With that said, be careful when people try to fish information out of you. How? People that you barely know or people you do not know who happen to be “friends with you on Facebook” ask you this information either through your wall or through the messaging system at Facebook. Not all people are that blatant when they ask for your birth place. Some people would fish around by asking leading questions. For example, where they open up supposedly and say, “Yeah I was born in so and so, are you from around there?” Or they say, “Where do you live?” and they ask you if you were born there. Questions along those lines are a way to try to trick you into disclosing your place of birth. Why is this important? Place of birth is a very significant piece of information. Birth certificate issuing agencies, banks, and numerous online financial institutions often use this as a security challenge question. Be very careful about sharing your place of birth.

Rule 3# Never Share Your Vacation Plans

If your “friends” know where you live and you post your vacation plans on your wall and say, “September 15 is the big day, I’m going to Hawaii for two weeks,” or “On November 5 I’m going to Paris for 10 days.” While this may seem like innocuous exercise and is just a way to update your friends, maybe give you tips from their own personal travels, or just basically share in your excitement and your plans, people who know where you live could use this information to your detriment. It could really harm you. If you announced that you will be gone from your house starting at a certain date and for an extended period of time, nefarious plots can definitely be hatched and it is not at all unforeseeable for people to use this to rob you, your home, or it could also be a digital burglary. A “digital burglary” occurs when somebody has already collected enough personal information about you, they could then hit your online accounts while you are gone and preoccupied with your vacation. Do not post any vacation count downs and do not make any grand announcements.

What a lot of people on Facebook do is they post pictures after they are back. Put it on your photo wall after you are back and that would be very safe. Also do not announce plans of coming back to a certain place and try not to drop hints. The problem with a lot of security components and pieces of information shared on Facebook is that people share them due to bragging, letting their guard down, or just being naive. The bottom line is if it is something that could be used against you, do not share it. Sure it may seem distrustful of friends, but depending how well you have cleaned your friends list, sharing may be a harmful proposition for you.

Rule 4# Do Not Share Your Home Address

Do not tell people where you live. This might seem like a no-brainer and bound to provoke the question of “Are people really that stupid?” Keep in mind that the materials people post on their wall are normally reserved for people that they trust. For many identity thieves, their job and their role is to get into that circle of trust. You would be surprised what people share when they are in that circle of trust. It is the same thing when you are in a group of friends and all of a sudden a friend of yours says something very sensitive. Some Americans have a term for this – it is called “overshare.” Do not over share. Telling people where you live is over sharing.

Avoid these situations where people drop their home address:

  • Invitations to parties.
  • Garage sales.
  • Telling them that you are close to some sort of famous location, a nice part of town or whatever desirable geographic spot that you live close to. People can then send fillers and fish out the information from you with just a few simple leading questions. Never share your home address.

Also if you keep a blog, it is very easy to get location information from your domain name. Be very careful about the kind of information you put on your website. For example, watch the information you put in the “Contact Us” section of your website. A lot of people integrate their Facebook with their blog, so when they post a blog update, it goes on their Facebook. If you have a fake friend that is looking to steal your identity or do you harm in one way or another and they see your Facbook wall updates from your blog, they can easily reverse engineer where that is coming from and get to you that way. Be very careful regarding personal residence information.

Rule #5 Never Reveal Sensitive Work Information

Again this should be a no-brainer, but like I mentioned earlier, when people are caught up in the confessional “mode of Facebook” where people are sharing, opening their hearts to friends, or just being caught up in the moment, people can share very sensitive information about their work. The most obvious is telling people that you do not really like your job. This happens quite frequently, actually. In the U.S., people get fired quite a bit for complaining about their job. Also, if your work involves confidential information, dropping hints or flat out sharing such confidential information is a no no. Certain jobs are more sensitive than others. For example, if you work for a stock brokerage firm or a stock research firm, sharing sensitive information can result not only in losing your job, but you might have to serve jail time as well. At the very least, you can be sued for a lot of money. A lot of these sensitive jobs have a very tight nondisclosure agreement that you have to sign to work there. It is very important that if you are frustrated about your job, you can be very generic about it. You could just say, “I’m just really frustrated. I don’t know what’s going on.” However, do not call out your boss by name and do not call out the company by name. Many states have really tight libel laws, so not only can you get sued for the confidential information, you could also get sued for libel and lose a lot of money in attorneys fees and damages. While a lot of people would say, “My Facebook friends are a closed environment,” most laws define publication as sharing it with another person. Regardless of how close or “private” your little Facebook group of friends is, sharing the information meets the “publication” requirement of a libel lawsuit. In some countries, libel is a criminal offense. Not only do you lose your job and get sued for money for disclosing possibly sensitive job information, you could also go to jail. In the U.S., certain government jobs mandate or require non-disclosure. Depending on how sensitive the information is, if you work for a government agency or authority, you might be going to jail as well because it is sensitive classified information. When it comes to complaining about your employment and it happens to everybody, use common sense and do not get caught up in the moment. Protect yourself. Be very vague and be very generic. If people really want to know the details, you can talk one on one and say it to their face because you never know who is on the other end of Facebook. If you think you can just easily delete materials, people can make back ups, and you could be on the hook. If the other person is trying to sue you, throw you in jail, or harm you in whatever way, they just need to get a copy of that information one time. Be very careful about what you share about your work.

Rule #6 Never Share Seemingly Very Personal Details That Can Be Used As Password Clues

When you open a Paypal account or when you open an online bank account or even Gmail, there is a section where it will ask you to provide two security questions. There is a whole list of the most common security questions that are used, for example, in Gmail. Identity thieves would list that information and not just for Gmail but for Yahoo! and any other online account or online bank account. They would have a master list and the target is you. They would send fishing questions like, “Hey, I heard you like this TV show.” Then you would say, “No, I don’t like the Family Guy. My favorite show is The Simpsons.” Sure enough that is actually a security challenge question and all they need now is to piece it together with other pieces of information. They can then retrieve your password and get into your account or do all sorts of other mischief. This does not just apply to online bank accounts or E-mail accounts. It can also apply to stock trading accounts. There are so many possible applications for this information. Be very careful. Seemingly trivial questions can actually be used for something very damaging. The name of your pets, your first girlfriend’s name or boyfriends’ name, your favorite high school teacher and information along those lines are things that are very personal that seemingly only you would know. A mother’s maiden name is a very common challenge question as well.

Rule #7 Never Share Addictions or Sensitive Personal Information That Can Lead to Trouble with Law

It is very common for college students to brag online on their Facebook status feed of how drunk or high they got at an event. Oftentimes, they would post pictures of people smoking bongs, or drinking at a bar and then getting behind the wheel of a car. This may seem stupid to normal sober people reading this guide. However, do not underestimate the power of being caught in the moment. People who do these are either drunk when they were posting or they were out to impress people who share the same values. Friends on their friends list like getting drunk as well. The problem with this is it may come back to haunt you in the form of images being leaked online. Take for example Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimming champion. Although he did not post a picture on Facebook, people took pictures of him inhaling from a marijuana water pipe and I’m not sure if the circle of friends who took that picture of him might not have circulated the picture, but it got circulated eventually. The easiest way for such incriminating pictures to be circulated is through Facebook. Be very careful about what you disclose. People also brag about their sexual conquests that might become harmful down the road. Also, people love to brag about small crimes like beating a speed limit, blowing a stop sign/stop light, stealing a small item or any other behaviors that law enforcement may want to know about. Not just law enforcement but also insurance companies and educational institutions. You would be surprised about how many people brag about plagiarizing material from the internet or implying plagiarism. For example, someone could say he was too busy partying last night and did not have much time to sleep and do his paper, but would say thank goodness for (name of an online essay mill) or other “essay assistance” websites. These sites imply plagiarism or academic ethical problems because academic ethical guidelines state that you must not hire somebody else to do your homework.

The Bottom Line

As a mature responsible adult, you are responsible for your actions. That is indisputable. You hold the consequences of your life pretty much in your hands. While there is still a lot left to chance, the choices that you make, the attitude that you take, and the point of view that you subscribe to create most of the results that you either will enjoy or suffer from in your life. By nurturing positive security habits of not being caught up in bragging to friends, or being caught up in immature disclosures of information, and always looking towards the long term, and being a mature individual, you will go a long way in protecting yourself. Not just today and tomorrow but for many years to come. Use Facebook responsibly and be more mature in your online demeanor.

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  • Dakota