Everyone who uses a social network has or should have concerns about their privacy.
I don’t mean concerns about what Facebook, Twitter, or Google are doing with the information you post. Yes, there is a place for those concerns. But I’m talking about concerns around what really happens when you post information on these sites and who can actually see it.
Often people post information they don’t want others to see. But because they don’t understand privacy settings, they end up sharing that information more widely than they wanted. And sometimes bad things happen because of that.
A good example of how things can go horribly wrong is a story from 2007. Kevin Colvin was an intern at Anglo Irish Bank in the United States. He took a day off work for what he said was a “family emergency.” His emergency turned out to be a party where he posed for some pictures that he later posted to Facebook. Unfortunately for Kevin, his manager was able to view the pictures and let him know.
Very permissive privacy settings on social networks
Things like this happen for two reasons. First, the default privacy settings on social networks tend to be very permissive. Second, making changes to the privacy settings can be confusing; so confusing in fact that you run a real risk of making things worse when you think you’re making them better.
This means that most people have overly permissive privacy settings, a not very clear grasp on how to change them, and a not clear sense of who really can see what they’re posting.
A great example of how this all comes together involves Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. Last December, his sister Randi posted some family photos including him to her Facebook page. She thought it was private. It wasn’t. Because of the privacy settings, a reporter was able to see the picture, copy it, and share it out. The reporter was nice: she removed the picture after Randi complained. But others already had it and shared it. It was gone from her control for good.
The lesson here is clear: if the sister of the founder of Facebook can’t make her privacy settings do what she thinks it’s doing, how can the rest of us do any better?
Each social network has different privacy settings
The problem is worse if you use more than one social network. Each social network is complicated in its own, different way. And each social network has its own model for privacy settings. You have “Friends” on Facebook (and “Friends of Friends”). You have “Circles” in Google+. You have “Followers” or “Following” on Twitter. Even if you understand one of these, you may not understand the others.
People are definitely concerned about this problem. A poll in 2013 by the Associated Press said three out of five Facebook users wanted more privacy over their profile. But if you talk with anyone who wants more privacy, you’ll almost always hear them say immediately “but I just don’t know how to do it right.”
Privacy scanner for social networks
This is where the new Privacy Scanner for Facebook, Twitter, Google+ in Trend Micro™ Titanium™ Internet Security helps out. The Privacy Scanner makes it easy for you to increase the privacy of your Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts without having to learn and understand each one.
It’s clear that many people want more privacy for their social networking profiles but feel overwhelmed and unable to make it work like they want. And this is the case for teenagers too. While we’ve heard “teenagers don’t care about privacy,” the truth is very different. A Pew study found that 70 percent of teens have reached out for advice on how to manage their online privacy settings. That tells me that teenagers want more privacy but feel they need help with it just like many other people.
Trend Micro’s Privacy Scanner feature puts in place a single set of recommended privacy settings for everyone that strikes a better balance of sharing and privacy than these sites use by default. If they don’t exactly suit your needs, you can use the Privacy Scanner to make adjustments to Facebook, Twitter or Google+ just like before. Even if you do make changes, the Privacy Scanner is a great tool to start with for customizing your settings. And for most people, it strikes the right balance of sharing and privacy with simplicity.
Because in the end, we’re all on social networks to share and interact with one another, not to be privacy experts ̶ even those of us who actually are for our work.
I work for Trend Micro and the opinions expressed here are my own.