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College Is Over: Keep Your Online Profile Private

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The Internet was and continues to be a game changer for the world, with the ability to bring people together through multiple forms of digital communication. Instant messaging, blogs, video, and voice over IP, social networks along with that old standby email have provided unfettered access no matter where you are; that is unless you connect from within North Korea or China.


For those countries that respect freedom of speech, your being away at college doesn’t mean losing touch with your old high school friends, thanks to the popularity and features of social networks. By posting photos and wall messages on these sites, you can keep up with everyone from your hometown virtually, even if you are thousands of miles away. That means that old friends can see you gain that freshman twenty just like your roommates.


Sites like Facebook and MySpace are great places to post pictures from an event that you can then tag and connect to your friends, making it easy for everyone to pool his or her photos from the same events. Furthermore, there are the friends “wall messages” with shout-outs on what you and your college crew are up to. Now this is great fun when you are in school and have the carefree lifestyle I can only dream of in adulthood. Know that once you graduate, those days are done. Welcome to the real world that judges your actions much more strictly.


Privacy Problems
MySpace and Facebook are the two most popular social networks with hundreds of millions of users like you, who have very different default privacy settings. MySpace defaults to open profiles that anyone can look at. Digging deeper into blog posts or photos requires that spies only have a login on the site. This makes it quite easy for cyber stalking, as everyone has a “key” to the lock on the door.

Facebook is open by default to everyone in the same network. This makes it easy to peer into people in your city, or school, but those in other networks cannot see your profile, just your location and friends.
The analogy for Facebook is that everyone in your community has the same key to look at your information, with anyone from outside communities not able to see profiles, photos, or posts.  When you setup your social network page, blog or other places where your data will be searchable by their index or Google and the other search engines, you need to put some parameters in place to protect yourself by limiting the data that is available outside of your friends.


Amid much noise in the tech industry, Facebook has stated that it is going to let Google get a look “into” its network for indexing the social networking site. This means that a copy, called a cache in geek speak, of whatever Facebook allows will be kept on the servers at Google.

Today it is just a name, city, and friends but in the future, based upon your privacy settings, it could be wall posts, break-up, or make-up notices, and even a copy of posted photos that could reside on Google servers, for easy searching tomorrow or years to come.


With Web 2.0 all about “transparency” or sharing information with the world, there are still some things that you may not want shared with people outside of your group of friends. With other parties having access to your personal information, the potential for it to be leaked through security breaches or worse, changes in privacy policies on your social network sites, increases. In fact, in the fall of 2006 when Facebook opened up to users outside of the formerly limited .edu email address that schools provide for students, much fear around “outsiders getting in” was made as the network opened up.


Kiss Your Job Goodbye
With these outside links coming into the site that you build your “social network” around, what happens when you start to hunt for a job, or once employed, your boss, trying to be a part of the “cool crowd” finds you and sends a friend request? Before you befriend them, you may want to think twice after reading this article.

A friend who works as a banker in the Silicon Valley told me a story about a great candidate for an intern position his company was considering to bring on then ultimately hire as an employee after graduation. During the hiring process, one of the low-level associates of the bank found pictures of the candidate partying and having what most people would consider usual campus fun.

When these photos were shared around the office, they were spotted by a high-level manager who immediately pulled the plug on both the internship AND ultimately a potential job for the candidate within the company.

It seems that this manager’s fears about what else could be posted to the Internet that could potentially embarrass the company outweighed the fact that the employer really liked the guy. Call it “old school mentality” or someone who doesn’t understand the digital age, but you should think twice before posting a potentially incriminating photo or wall post and do your best to protect your network account.


It is important to remember that the virtual world is quickly becoming a part of the regular world and your escapades online will reach their way outside sooner or later. It’s best to limit the personal information you post or to put profile locks in place to limit your public exposure.


Here’s what you need to do to lock down your profile in the two most popular social networking sites:


MySpace


1. Login to your account.


2. Click on Profile under your Control Panel.


3. Click on Account Settings on the right side of the page.


4. Click on the Privacy tab.


5. Make adjustments to not show people when you are online, who can see your profile or block troublesome users (like your boss) from finding you.


6. While you cannot make a limited profile, you can prevent photos from being emailed or shared, which could keep incriminating evidence from spreading.


7. Click Save All Changes and go into the Spam settings to make changes to Friend Requests to limit how people can find you on the service. 


Facebook

1. Login to your account.


2. Click on the Privacy button on the top right side of the page.


3. Click Profile then change your settings to not be visible to your network (your city or school) or if you want anyone in your area to search and see more information about you. Choose friends and their friends or just your friends to set limits on each of these settings.


4. If your boss or parents use Facebook, you can click “Customize” then add “Limited Profile” under “Except these People” or add exceptions one at a time, which is cumbersome.


5. Click on Save to lock these settings before moving to the Contact tab; and make the same adjustments as you did here to lock parts of your posts from those who view your Limited Profile.


6. Click on the Privacy link again and go into Search, News Feed and their respective tabs. I also turn off the advertising announcements too as I do not get paid enough to be a Facebook spokesperson.


7. When you add friends whom you want to limit their access, pull the drop down “Limited Profile” under “Add to friend list … ” before hitting the Confirm button.


By Dave Mathews, Young Money Technology Editor

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