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From Chapter 3 of The Paranoid's Guide to Using the Internet
How social networks stay free
Social networks are not out to steal your information to sell to the highest bidder. There have been privacy issues on some social networks, yes, but for the most part, they aren’t as sinister as the media makes them out to be.
The majority of their money comes from ad revenue. They take keywords from your interests and what you post and they show you ads they think you might like. But that’s the simplest thing to explain.
While many social networks do allow third party sites and companies to partner with them (which means the third party can view your information) for a fee, they only do so when the user (you) allows them to. Of course there’s more techno babble where that came from but that’s just a basic sense of what can happen when you’re part of a social network.
For example, chances are, you might have heard someone who has used a social network freaking out about another site displaying their pictures and their information, open to all the world. Most of the time, when something like that happens, it’s not the social network’s fault. It’s the user who hasn’t utilized adequate privacy settings. Which brings me to the next subtopic.
About privacy settings
Every social network has privacy settings. Many range from super cautious to open for all. The problem is that many people aren’t aware of what their default privacy settings are.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found that people I don’t know have everything open for the entire world to see. I’ve even found that kids have no clue that they have their entire profiles visible to everyone. I remember at one point I was curious to see just how many kids on my teen family member’s friend list had their profiles closed. I was astounded at how many teenagers and preteens had their accounts completely open. By simply clicking on their names, I could find pictures of them and their friends, their family’s names, their pets names, their birthday, their favorite foods, where they were going on any given night, and so on. It was terribly frightening that so many children were so openly exposed. Beyond the parenting aspect of it, all of this was because of inadequate use of privacy settings.
How you change privacy settings depends on which social network you are on. It will either be listed as simple as “Settings”. You might also find those options under “Privacy Settings” or “Account Settings”. Then you can easily choose what you want to share with the world or what you want to keep private.
If you’re unsure how to do it, enlist the help of a trusted loved one. With billions of people on social networks around the world, chances are, someone in your family knows exactly how to make your profile as private as you’d like it to be.
Watching what you say
I’m not talking about limiting your opinion in any way. I’m talking about the indulgence of listing every little thing that you do. If you have people on your friends lists that you don’t know all that well, like long lost friends and extended family, be careful about tracking your movements.
For example, if you and your spouse are going to head to the movies, don’t mention it on your updates until after you’ve returned. There have been reports of people who have stated when they weren’t going to be home and then they come back to find they’ve been robbed.
“But you said that it was unlikely someone would rob me from being online!”
I did say that and it is true. I don’t want to add to the fear or be the reason you stay away from the computer but I don’t want to BS you either. Things like that do happen. But if you’ll notice, YOU have the power to prevent such things from happening. Be smart about what you post. You don’t have to give away what you’re doing every second of every day just to be on a social network, even if it seems like that’s what your friends do. Before you post an update, ask yourself if revealing that information would leave you vulnerable. Would it tip off someone to know where you are or if you’re alone?
You’re in control of the social network, not the other way around.