Why Privacy Is Important And What You Can Do To Keep It


We’ve heard time and again that knowledge is power, and this rings true not just during finals week. One of the most controversial elements of social network Facebook is people’s right to privacy. A few years ago a Facebook policy claiming to gain ownership over everything a user posts, (whether it be photographs, videos, notes, etc.) caused quite a ruckus in the cyber community. Now that they’ve updated their policies and clarified that little clause, the main issue now is their ability to possibly give-out or sell your information to other companies for whatever purposes.

Why is this such an issue? Well it all depends on what kind of information you post online. If you’re really careless, you would have answered every field in the INFO tab of your profile truthfully and allowed EVERYONE online to see it. This might give third-party applications information about your likes, dislikes, your e-mail address etc. which will in turn allow them to send you unsolicited e-mails, or make surveys without your knowledge. Or worse, it could give identity thieves the green light to pretend to be you and rack up credit in your name. Or much worse, it could give way to the mythical “Big Brother” to keep tabs on you—wherever you go, whatever you’re doing. We’re not far-off, seeing as you might already be allowing Foursquare to check you in to places and posting your activities as status messages.

The fact that Facebook is already worth $500 billion without even going public yet should set off some alarms. Why is it worth that much? Is it because it has that much information on so many people? How much will it be worth when Goldman Sachs makes it a public company allowing anyone with enough money to buy shares?

Today, cyberspace was flooded with news that a new site called Spokeo.com lets users find other people online. Think Google search but for people. I searched with my name and found nothing. Until I searched for myself using my e-mail address.

It’s already a little creepy that it’s searching for photos and bio, but why is it searching for WEALTH? I tried my best to remember if I had ever posted any information that would lead anyone to a specific amount. If you have MySpace, you should recall that the last question on the bio there is “income per year.”

Whew! So I didn’t give them any information about wealth…or I did but they didn’t find any. Nevertheless, they found enough to give me the goosebumps. One website found 25 blog entries and 4 of my social networking accounts. Oh and they found where I live, my age (albeit fictional. No really, I am 111 years old) and my photos. If I were a cyber-stalker I would have everything I need just from this website. What’s the worst-case scenario here? Serial killers can go through social networks and look through photos of, let’s say, Asian girls in their mid-twenties, get their names and e-mail addresses, go to Spokeo.com, look them up, learn how much they make, what they do, where they live, what they look like, and make their move. Scary? Well yes it is. Knowledge is power.

Alright, alright, everyone calm down. I said worst-case, not that it happens…although it can. But there is a way to avoid it. Get out of Spokeo.com’s search results. Copy the search result URL that has your e-mail address on it, and click the privacy link on the bottom of the page. It should take you to this page.

After clicking the Remove Listing button, Spokeo.com will send you an e-mail confirming that you want out. Obviously, paranoid little me did. It did my heart good when I saw the words: This email search has been removed.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “but what if it hasn’t been removed?” I certainly was. I tried searching again and happily found this: search results for this email address are not available.

Guys, I think by now you all agree that information on the web can be used for different purposes, most of which are out of our control. Be proactive. Don’t post your full name on social networking sites, or any site for that matter. Never give out sensitive information such as social security number, credit card numbers (let’s talk about eBay and PayPal another time), or home addresses. Use different e-mails for different accounts, AND DIFFERENT PASSWORDS that are a mix of alphanumeric letters and symbols. Think twice before allowing a third-party application, like those games on Facebook, to access your information. And if you’re like me who’s extra paranoid about “Big Brother,” never allow someone else to “check you in” to places using Foursquare or Facebook places. Be wary of what you post. Think first if it’s absolutely necessary to post it and how it could harm or benefit you. Knowledge is power, so don’t let anyone use your information against you.