Business Today

Guard your privacy online

Online privacy, and the lack of it, is something that goes beyond Facebook.

Kushan Mitra        Print Edition: July 25, 2010

An editorial cartoon by Jeff Stahler has a husband asking his wife, "What is an 8-letter word for 'No Privacy'?" while doing a crossword puzzle and she responds, "Facebook". To cut a long story short, Facebook's 26-year-old Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg felt that users on the extremely popular social network should 'share' most of their lives with their friends on Facebook. To do this, he changed Facebook's privacy policies, allowing the site's 400 million active users, including close to 10 million in India, to see much more of each other.

Suddenly, you did not need to be a friend of a person to view his or her pictures, and changing back to a higher, more secure level of privacy became tougher. Since the news broke over a month ago, Zuckerberg has been fighting battles in the world's media and been forced to do a turnaround on privacy.

But there was a strange divide between younger and older users, with the younger more vocal about their loss of privacy. More importantly, Facebook suddenly brought the issue of online privacy back to centrestage. So, how much privacy is enough online?

The simple fact is that almost anything you post online, no matter how protected you think it is, can spread out. Take a picture, for example, that you might post on a social networking site where only your 200-odd friends can see it. Suppose one of your friends was to save that picture and forward it to his friends.

Sooner or later it could reach the inbox of someone who you really don't want to see that picture. So, the best way to protect your privacy is to not share too much in the first place. Going to the extreme path adopted by people like Himmat Deol, 31, a cinematographer, and to shun Facebook altogether might be a bit much. (Deol, despite being a long-time Internet user, claims to 'have his reasons' for not signing up.)

Facebook is, according to this column, still an extremely effective way of keeping up with friends and relatives and is particularly useful in maintaining contacts that one might otherwise not have. A better path is, therefore, to be far more selective in what you share, even though we live in a digitised world where capturing information is easy.

So, if your friend takes pictures of a wild bachelor /bachelorette party, do not think that you will hurt their feelings if you tell them not to post any pictures of the party.

The bottom line: you should not really trust websites with too much information. Not just because of the website's policies or security, but because of the people who frequent that site. For a cautionary tale, go take a look at a website called www.lamebook.com

THE DOS AND DON'TS

  • Do not join social networks you have not heard of. Smaller social networks could be less concerned with your information.
  • Please remember to read notices from any social network that you join intimating you of policy changes on sharing.
  • On Facebook, adjust your privacy settings by selecting the 'Privacy Settings' option under the 'Account' tab on your home page.
  • Be careful how much information you choose to share in the first place. You are the master of your own privacy online.

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