“It’s only natural that our times of highest celebration are also the times when our guard is down,” said AVG CEO JR Smith. “Whether finding the perfect gift at an obscure online retailer or sharing photos from indulgent holiday parties, AVG has a vested interest in equipping customers with the tools they need to avoid identity theft and the dreaded overshare. And while the holidays are the perfect occasion to get started, our suggestions are great rules to practice for the whole year.”
AVG offers the following twelve tips to maintain control and promote fruitful engagement in digital life:
1. Withhold what privacy experts refer to as sensitive unclassified information, which includes personally identifiable information. Never post on any social website your middle name, your address, or your phone number. If the website requires your date of birth to register, make certain you apply the maximum privacy settings to it.
2. Never post your Social Security Number, student ID, banking information of any kind, or credit card information.
3. People share a lot of “routine” information on social websites, quite commonly including vacation and other travel plans. Do not do this. A proclamation of your absence from home is an invitation to burglary. (You don’t think burglars have Facebook accounts?)
4. The majority of Facebook users and users of other social websites post pictures of themselves. That is part of the fun of a social website. It is, however, a far more strategic move to avoid posting any pictures of yourself. Advances in facial recognition software make it possible for strangers of all sorts to match your unidentified photo to your name and, potentially, to a database of information about you. Post information strategically, not impulsively.
5. Before you post, imagine your family, your parents, your kids, your friends, your boss, your clients, your coworkers, your employees, future potential employers, future potential clients, and future potential spouse(s). Are you perfectly comfortable with each of them seeing or reading what you are about to post?
6. Whatever you post can be copied and reposted by people, organizations, and agencies you do not know and in contexts you never imagined.
7. Whatever you post is very sticky. It might remain on the Internet and accessible to others just about forever. This means it can haunt you and everything you do.
8. Avoid the pitfall of TMI: too much information. Gossip around the office water cooler can be destructive—who’s been hired for a new “secret” project, who’s sleeping with the boss, and so on. People have been fired for such loose talk, or they have seen their climb up the corporate ladder interrupted or stopped by it.
9. Be aware of and take time to understand the privacy settings of the social websites you use. On Facebook, for example, anyone can see your so-called “public information,” which includes your name, picture (if you post one) or other “profile” image, gender, username, user ID (account number), and networks. Other than these basics, you can make use of the “audience selector” to choose who sees each piece of additional information you post. By using the “View As” tool, you can see how your Facebook profile (timeline) appears to others.
10. Share information cautiously and selectively.
11. Many people believe that the more “friends” they have on a social networking site, the better. Consider instead the strategic advantage of being highly selective.
12. Remember that social websites can be subject to the same kind of malware and phishing attacks that afflict the Internet as a whole. Arguably, the laid-back, seemingly benevolent social website environment makes users even more vulnerable to attacks than they would be elsewhere on the web. (Hey, it’s a party!) Don’t let your guard down.