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Are you worried by your online privacy?

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Our latest generation of twenty something’s (give or take….) now use social media as part of their everyday life and, as time passes us by, we are starting to slowly ignore the potential of the many downstream problems that all this digital information and online data can now cause us.

Unless you remove all of the privacy settings from Facebook (which we all know is more difficult than steering the Titanic round an iceberg) then your profile picture along with vital personal information is available for all to see – and this includes the search engines. Facebook photo “tagging” allows the identification of people’s faces, and massive advances in technology now means that a mere snap of a person using a smartphone can lead to instant identification and data retrieval of just about anything.

In fact, a research at Carnegie Mellon University proved that by taking pictures of student volunteers on campus allowed them to cross reference Facebook and identify 31% of people by name. Another study cross referenced 6,000 dating profile pictures and successfully managed to identify 10% of people – many of which used pseudonyms on their dating profile.

What Does This Mean?

As technology develops, photographs are all going to be uploaded into the cloud and available for facial recognition software to identify us as we walk down the street. Whether it’s a snap from a smartphone, or a picture from a cctv camera, it’s going to be almost impossible to hide. More importantly (not that most of us would want to), in some countries such as Australia, governments are moving towards banning us from hiding our faces in public so we’ll have no choice. On the plus side, police will soon wear camera equipment that will quickly be able to identify criminals and swiftly bring them to justice.

Other recent changes to the social media bandwagon (in particular from Google+) prevent us from using pseudonyms to claim anonymity online and this prevents us from hiding even more!

By means of a reminder, if volunteered, Facebook can tell us almost any personal information such as address, email, telephone, education, family, favourite movies and what CD we bought last week. Let’s not forget that status updates (and many other methods of social communication) are now informing us when we are going on/actually on holiday, giving all those burglars the chance to come round and visit your empty home.

LinkedIn can instantly throw all of your professional information into the mix including your current and previous employer, your boss (both old and new) and pretty much everything that you would see on any professional resume. Now, with the introduction of Google+, it will only get worse and you can bet your bottom dollar it’s going to be well integrated into search results (including all your treasured photographs for many)!!

As we all know, Twitter can tell you pretty much anything that we’re prepared to offer.

The question still stands – should we be worried about our online privacy? Well the answer’s really up to you, the individual concerned. Look out for the second part of this blog which brings location based services into the equation.

What’s next?

I’d like to take this a step further and talk more about location based services such as Foursquare (and also products such as Facebook Places) to the social media privacy party.

If you’re social enough to invite strangers – or people that you don’t know that well – to your circles (please forgive the GooglePlus pun here) you start to give everyone your entire life on a “smartphone shaped plate”.

I played about with FourSquare today to see what I could reveal in a hypothetical world. Within a 24 hour period, I managed to tell my “network” my entire day by location. Without too much effort, I managed to inform everyone:-

  • What time I left for work, how I travelled, and when I arrived at the office
  • What I had for breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Where I did my banking, what doctors I went to, and what pharmacy I got my prescription at
  • What local pub I drank in, what I recommended for a drink, and how long I was in there for
  • Where I did my shopping, and where I lived

…..as we all know, Twitter can tell you pretty much anything that we’re prepared to offer.

Notwithstanding all of this juicy information, you’re also revealing to the public when you’re out of the house (you’re also revealing how far away from the house you are – which is even worse) so you really are opening all sorts of doors.

“Isn’t that Social Media” I hear you say? “What’s the big deal” others might shout. Well, in the wrong hands, this information can be pretty dangerous indeed. I’m certainly not going to give people any bright ideas on what can be done with all this information, but those of us with even half a creative mind can only imagine what we could do with all these beautiful treasures. Just take a second to think about telling the wrong person exactly where you’re going to be, and when!!!


I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t volunteer all of this information online, and it’s even difficult to suggest that we should all simply be more careful. What I am saying is that Social Media is here to stay and we should fully understand the possibilities of where technology is taking us.  For those of us brought up during this new media era, it’s a little easier to understand. For many others, it’s much more difficult…..

About Adrian Britton

Sometimes I will talk about things that are interesting, and sometimes I won’t. Sometimes it will be a bit of a laugh, and sometimes it will just be a downright rant about something going on in the world – I’m often accused at moaning a lot, and I consider myself quite good at it !!



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