We’re pretty acquainted with social media at this point, and most times, we don’t think twice about what we post. After all, your Facebook status is a great place to share family updates, let your friends know what you’re up to, and post memories of exciting events.
However, much like harsh words, once the information we post is out there, we can’t ever take it back. More damaging than a wayward insult, much of what you share can be pieced together in a way that exposes you—and your family—to those with more sinister interests.
In an era when friending each other on Facebook is a common way to stay in touch, keep your privacy a priority by avoiding the following six types of posts:
1. Anything That Reveals Your Home Or Work Address
“No kidding!” you’re thinking. But we don’t just mean typing your whole address into your Facebook profile.
“Checking in” at a location or using geotagging apps when sharing pictures can mean that you’re unintentionally revealing your address.
Image credit: indiewebcamp.com
For example, you know how you can create your own geotags for Instagram photos? When you do this, it pulls your current location. So, if all your made-up geotags point to the same location, someone who’s determined to find you can assume that those clustered geotags point to where you live or work.
Also, when having friends over, be mindful that others can reveal your information as well. Politely ask guests not to “check in” at your home or tag the location in pictures, as the last thing you want is for everyone on their Friends List to have access to your address, as well.
2. Your Vacation Plans & Pictures
You’re out on vacation and you want to make your friends back home jealous, so you post every detail of your itinerary on Facebook, you tweet about it on Twitter, and you check yourself in on Foursquare. It’s natural—we all want to brag about how much fun we’re having while away.
However, all this information can easily make you a target for burglars.
Once someone with bad intentions sees your post, our first point illustrates just how easily they may be able to learn your address with just a little digging around online. The result? Someone decides to stop by your residence while you’re away—after all, you’ve just “checked in” to an international location and won’t be home anytime soon.
The risk is particularly true for families with teenage children who perhaps aren't as aware of the need to avoid telling strangers that your house will be unoccupied, and are more likely to share every detail of a new adventure on various social media outlets.
What steps can you take to reduce your risk?
Consider taking a vacation from Facebook while you’re on vacation, and avoid announcing that you’ll be out of the country for a few more weeks—no matter how tempting it is to spread the word.
Plus, by waiting to share vacation pics until after you return, you’ll have a chance to engage comments from friends and family without being distracted from your actual vacation.
3. Private Information That Could Lead To Password Clues
Feeling nostalgic enough to post a picture of Spot, your very first dog? Or, is your relationship with your mom made public in Facebook’s “About” section? Divulging those seemingly innocuous bits of information can make you more vulnerable.
That’s because online security questions aren't the strongest, especially when they require information that you could easily give away on Facebook without thinking twice. The street where you grew up, your childhood pet's name, where you were married, the make and model of your first car—these are all specific details that are easily culled from photos and posts shared on Facebook.
4. Those Totally Adorable (But Naked) Baby Pictures
What parent hasn’t taken a cute photo of their tot splashing around in the tub? Or playing in the sand at the beach wearing nothing but a diaper? Those are exactly the kind of precious moments that moms and dads capture to share on Facebook all the time.
MSNBC.com recently ran an interesting article that explores the two-fold dilemma parents face when posting pictures of their children “in varying degrees of undress” online.
Most obvious, albeit difficult to think about, is the concern that pictures will end up in the hands of sexual predators. This is why any photo of your child partially or completely naked, including bathtime, is not for public consumption.
However, cringeworthy as it might be, the risk of your child’s picture being viewed by strangers is only part of the problem.
In 2010, a Utah mom was charged with two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor after snapping a shot of her boyfriend with their naked infant son—a photo which was reported to police by a pharmacy photo technician. The charges were later dropped after police determined that the father was merely kissing the boy after his bath, but by then the child had been removed from the family’s home.
An easy guideline to follow when you're deciding which snaps of your kids to share is this: if you think that they might not want the picture made public (now or years down the road, if they're little), or if you feel protective at the thought of a stranger seeing it, then don't share it.
5. Work That Isn’t Copyrighted
Whenever we decide to get crafty and create some type of art that we’re proud of, our first instinct is to share it with any and everyone. But, if you post anything that can easily be stolen, someone else might be able to take the credit for all your hard work.
We’re not just talking about a cool design or artwork that someone else might slap their name on for the “likes.” Intellectual property thieves are taking advantage of the fact that, as Hubspot states, “copyright law on the internet is a total train wreck right now.”
Even if you do manage to convince an intellectual property thief to stop sharing, the damage may already be done; your personal photos sold to a stock image website or a design you worked hard on already printed and sold in a stranger’s Etsy shop.
Instead of sharing on Facebook, post your artistic endeavors on websites aimed at creatives, such as Flickr for photographers, as they generally offer more copyright protection than a Facebook photo album.
Learn To Be Your Own Filter On Facebook
For the most part, Facebook is a great tool. It allows us to stay in touch with friends, share information and ideas and even stay on top of the latest news stories.
But, because Facebook and other social media websites are so ingrained into our daily lives, we tend to forget that by using them, we’re voluntarily giving up our privacy, bit by bit.
However, there are steps you can take to limit the risk of unintentionally over-sharing, including:
- Set your social media apps to ensure that they aren’t automatically sharing your location, and just say no if a new application asks to use your current location.
- Consider sharing only with those on your Friends List, and not “friends of friends.” Also, use Facebook’s privacy feature, which allows you to view your own profile as a specific person or the general public.
- Every few months, “reverse-stalk” yourself to evaluate what information about you is readily available for strangers to see.
Most importantly, choose your online friends wisely. As you take the time to decide whether or not to befriend someone on Facebook, check out their profile. If something about their profile catches your eye and doesn’t sit well with you, consider either not corresponding with them, or even blocking them if necessary.
This advice isn’t just for strangers or friends-of-friends, but should be taken into account when considering the seemingly-endless parade of friend requests from those you haven’t seen since the second grade. Sure, reconnecting is nice, but do they really need to know daily updates about you and your family?
Lastly, don’t give out personal details about yourself, family, home, etc. unless it is in a private discussion with someone you know. Every day, there are still people shocked and appalled to discover that what they post in the public sphere can be accessed by... the public!
Bottom line? It’s up to us as adults to recognize the risk we take when sharing information and to filter ourselves. You can’t assume that everyone who sees your posts, pictures, and information is friendly. If you wouldn’t show whatever it is you’re about to share with a stranger, then just don’t share it at all.