Social Media and Personal Privacy

  • It’s so easy to share a status update, a Tweet, a Qik video.
  • It’s so easy to log-in on Brightkite and show exactly where you are, and then have that update your Facebook status.
  • It’s all so easy, which is why it’s so popular. 

But it’s also the reason why you have to “Think Before You Tweet.” 

In January, we had “KeyInfluencer” inadvertently slamming the home town of one of his largest clients. In March, we had Cisco Fatty. Now we’ve got @izzyvideo getting robbed after Tweeting out that he and his family were on vacation.

On Friday night, I was on NBC17, talking about social media and personal privacy. Here’s how the segment went.



Common Sense is not that common

For me, some common sense rules apply:

  1. Don’t share your exact address unless you’re at a large tradeshow where you actually want to find your friends. Otherwise, it has little utility, most people aren’t interested, and those that are might be interested for the wrong reasons. Yes, I think location-based social networking has potential, but only after they work out the “that’s a bit creepy” factor;
  2. Don’t share your children’s names. Saying “my oldest son just hit a home run!”, for example, conveys all the excitement and means the same thing to those who know you as saying, “Johnny just hit a home run!”;
  3. Don’t share the name of your child’s school. I mean, why would you?;
  4. Assume that every post is both permanent and public. Yes, Facebook has privacy settings, but it’s so easy for a friend to snap a screenshot and repost anything (even harmlessly), that you have to assume it’s all “out there.” 
  5. Consider how others might “take” your post. Being subtle, being funny and most of all being ironic is really hard to do in 140 characters or less.
  6. Most people aren’t “the bad guys,” but don’t make it easy for them to find you if they start looking. Look how easy this is, go to NearbyTweets and search for “on vacation” to find people near you announcing that they, too, are leaving their homes unguarded.

Nearby Tweets

Same Story, Different Star

Having said all that, I’m not suggesting there will be a surge in social-media-informed crime. Every new technology gets these stories. I can remember my mother telling me never to say, “I’m not home right now,” on my answering machine, but instead to say, “I can’t get to the phone right now.” You know, so the bad guys wouldn’t come busting through the front door after checking my answering machine. Hasn’t happened yet.

And I still get the emails from people who are shocked (shocked!) that you can figure out where they live by punching their phone number into Google. Like Google invented the reverse phone number lookup.

Bottom Line Advice

My bottom line advice is easy: Think briefly before every tweet, considering whether you’re comfortable with it being out there, forevermore, and available to friends, strangers and “others”. If you are, fire away. If not, don’t send it. You’ll rarely regret the update not sent.

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  • Rob Williams
    Posted at 20:38h, 07 June

    Nice job. It really is up to each person to decide what level of privacy they desire. A good rule of thumb is “would I want ____ to read this?” Fill in the blank with someone important to you like your kid, spouse, parent, boss, etc.

  • isabella mori
    Posted at 21:32h, 20 September

    how come there is only one comment? this is one of the best posts on privacy i’ve found so far.

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