Is it worth sharing my personal information?

Security & Privacy

Privacy. Social media. There is a paradox somewhere between there. How much privacy shall we expect from social networking media, which are built on the basis of sharing our personal information?

As we are busy announcing our presence to the world via Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and numerous other services, let’s understand the value in disclosing our personal details.

The good

A little bit of appropriate disclosure could be advantageous. Done right, your online profile could attract the right kind of attention. Say that you are a fresh graduate or someone looking for a (new) job; why not use the online profile page as an informal extension to your resume?

In a study conducted by Microsoft in December 2009, 79% of hiring managers and recruiters revealed that they review applicants’ online information before making a hiring decision. So, pad up that profile page with details that would put you in a favorable position. Include a link to your online portfolio to showcase your work and achievement.

Show your personality. It’s okay to leave that picture of you having a drink with some friends (provided that it was not a wild night, and you are not underage). But also try to sneak some pictures of you volunteering at the homeless shelter, or spending the summer in Africa with Engineers without Borders. Present yourself as a well-rounded person, someone with multiple interests and can get along well with others.

The bad

Your information is a commodity that companies sought after. People are less inclined to fill out online survey and even more reluctant to be approached on the street. But in social media, people casually mention about a product on their or their friends’ page whether in the comment or simply clicking the “Fan” or “Like” button.

Whatever product preferences that you mentioned might be used for targeted marketing. You might receive e-mails containing product recommendations, trials, etc. In a worse situation, in some countries where customer’s privacy policy is not strictly enforced yet, your contact information might be passed from one company to another, resulting in more unrequested spam mails clogging your inbox or unwanted SMSes or unsolicited phone calls.

The ugly

This is where the worst happens—your online information is being harvested for malicious intentions. Your e-mail address is a favorite target for spammers and phishers. With spam, you could be on either receiving or sending end. Spammers often crawl the web, searching for e-mail addresses which would be the recipients of their spam mails. Some would go to a greater length, using your e-mail addresses to generate and distribute spam on their behalf.

Then, there are phishers who set their eyes on accounts that possess real cash value such as online banking, online gaming, iTunes, etc. Phishers often disguise themselves as someone you trust in order to trick you into revealing sensitive information. A common method is to spoof the “From” address in e-mail, pretending to be someone in authority and then ask the recipients to verify some information at a forwarded link.

In general, our information might be available anywhere on the Internet, but social media receive the huge blame because most details are concentrated there, ready to be harvested. Whether you like it or not, more and more social networking services are making their way to us; you might be tempted to sign up. The best practice is to protect your own online privacy. Set the right privacy setting for your account, and more importantly, be smart about what you post online.

Image credit to Rob Pongsajapan

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