Everything I post on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ is set to be visible to the public. A lot of people would call me nuts for doing this and wonder why I don’t do a “better” job at managing my privacy. After all, both Facebook and Google+ give you ample privacy controls, and you can restrict Twitter to only those people you approve. This, however, is offering up only the illusion of privacy, and it’s better to embrace the reality that privacy barely exists online, if at all.
Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately. If you put something on the Internet without encrypting it using a key and passphrase of your choosing, you cannot reasonably assume any level of privacy is going to be involved. As soon as you grant access to another person, you cannot control if or how that information spreads. This includes both the service providers who eagerly want to monetize you (and make no mistake, they are) and anyone with whom you are “friends”. Many times, we fail to consider our social network connections as a privacy and security liability, but they are.
Consider this: would you trust every single individual with whom you are connected to not get infected with malware that is dedicated to stealing your personal information? Would you trust them to not allow a third-party application to scrape that data in exchange for playing the latest MafiaVille game? Do they have enough sense to not upload and tag all of those embarrassing pictures from last night’s office party? You know they don’t, but you prefer to only think of the big, bad companies who want to pay for the service you use for “free” as a privacy liability. The truth is that one or more of your friends and acquaintances are more of a security threat than the entirety of Silicon Valley, and I haven’t even gotten into the ones that will happily share screen grabs behind your back.
This isn’t to say that you should give up on privacy, but simply that you cannot realistically be an entirely open book online with only those whom you want to be without significant hassle. When I choose to share something online, I do it with the assumption that it can end up being accessible to anyone with access to Google and some skills at doing Internet searches. With that mindset, you’ll find yourself properly self-censoring what will end up being your online permanent record. Considering that an increasing number of employers will check out your online presence and social media profiles as part of their hiring process, you have a vested interest in properly controlling it.
Eventually, there will be negative things about you posted online. You simply will not be able to escape it. By posting privately, you’re hiding the real you from the Internet, ceding control of your online image to the trolls and haters. On a regular basis, we hear stories of people who get something negative about them posted online and it ruins them, but it only ruins them because it’s their only public online presence. By having spent no time trying to put the real you out there, you’re setting yourself up for an easy reputation trashing.
You might find yourself thinking that managing an online reputation is only for public figures (or wannabes) and businesses. Wrong. The Internet has made us all public figures now. You can choose to embrace it, or you can wait for a troll to embrace it for you.