If you often post videos of you and your friends on YouTube, update your location on FourSquare or share photos on Facebook, you may want to think twice about how much information you are providing to potential employers, graduate schools, paralegal certification training programs, government agencies, scam artists and perhaps even your mother. Regardless of how careful you are with privacy settings, it can be easier than you think for your personal information to become public.
In an article on the PrivacyRights.org website, the extent of public access to social media is described in detail. When you have an account on any social media network such as Twitter or Facebook or YouTube, every move you make online can be recorded by tracking cookies. Advertisers can legally track the websites you visit and the information you share online to a build your personal profile. When you play games online, software developers can track your moves and access other personal information that can be used in a variety of ways. Government agencies such as the IRS, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI use social media to troll for data about potential criminal activity.
If you are an upstanding citizen you may believe you have no reason to fear the intrusion of outsiders into your personal network, but you may not realize how damaging your shared information can be in other ways. According to PrivacyRights.org, your social media profile can impact you when you are:
- Looking for a job
- Starting a new relationship
- Renting an apartment
- Volunteering or running for election in your community
- Applying for college or grad school
- Establishing relationships with your boss and coworkers
According to PrivacyRights.org, “A report commissioned by Microsoft issued in January 2010, found that only 15% of consumers surveyed thought that what they posted online had any effect on their job prospects. In sharp contrast, the report found that 75% of recruiters reported formal policies that required online research of applications.”
If you choose to post drunken photos or use inappropriate language you could hurt your future prospects, because even deleted files can turn up in other locations. While your boss cannot fire you for your behavior outside of working hours, you can lose your job if you rant about your job dissatisfaction or reveal company secrets online.
If you are applying for college or grad school, be aware that universities now use social media not only to promote their programs but to check up on applicants. According to an article on USNews.com, a Kaplan Test Prep survey of universities found that 24 percent said they use social media to research applicants. In the survey, 12 percent of respondents who reported checking social media sites noted that posts—such as vulgar language in a status update or alcohol consumption in photos—negatively impacted a prospective student’s admissions chances.
PrivacyRights.org has several suggestions for protecting your home and your computer as well as your reputation while still enjoying the positive benefits of social media:
- Don’t share your date of birth, place of birth or age online
- Delete cookies often from your computer
- Don’t publicize your vacation plans
- Avoid pop-up windows, especially if they say your security is out-of-date
- Keep your home address off any location-identifying sites
- Assume everyone from your mother to your professor to your boss can see everything you post
Some college students are already taking to heart the warnings about over-sharing online. The New York Times recently reported that students on spring break are more aware of the possibility of photos or videos of their bad behavior turning up on Facebook or YouTube, so they have been behaving in a more circumspect manner when out with friends or on vacation.