When Google warns of privacy issues on the social web, you can’t really help but listen…

Privacy is an issue I’m pretty two-sided about. I obviously care about being safe and protected, but at the same time, there’s a lot of info about me online that *I* voluntarily put up. I try not to worry about it too much, but every so often I do. However, whether your careful or not about WHAT you put online, it is very important that you at least know what you’re getting yourself into and what you should be afraid of–what I’m tackling in this post.

For example, think about your various passwords–do you use the same password for every site you’re on? I sure do (did, actually) until my email was hijacked by spammers a few weeks ago, sending a tacky spam message to EVERYONE in my contact list (Going back at least 6 years). I put on my little tin foil hat and went and changed all my passwords on important sites (to all different passwords). Also, be weary of where you give your password. I’m not certain, but I was told that email hijacking can be a result of giving your email address and password to social networking sites in an effort to find out if your contacts on that site. Now while the site may swear up and down it won’t keep your info or use it anyway–it’s always possible that someone else could hack the site and get this valuable information.

Another issue–if you’re a mac user (like I am) you probably don’t have any anti-virus protection on your computer. As it stands there is virtually no risk for mac users, though with it’s growing popularity, it may just be a matter of time before some hacker owns us all, and there’s nothing we can do about it!

So I’m no expert, and I’ll admit I don’t always practice what I preach, but here’s what I suggest to protect yourself and your computer on the social web:

1. Change passwords regularly and store them in a safe place – You can either write them down in a book (and keep it hidden somewhere) or my preferred method is to record them in .txt files with cryptic names/folder on your hard drive (as long as you’ll be able to remember what it is) Leaving the passwords out is a risk if your house or computer gets broken into, and suddenly someone has access to EVERYTHING!

2. Consider keeping your birth date private – Admittedly, I’ve never even thought of this before, but publishing your birthdate on Facebook leaves you vulnerable to identity theft. More info…

3. Be sure to read privacy policies thoroughly – At the very least, this can help you avoid getting unwanted spam, but you may be surprised to learn anything you post (family photos, personal information) can become the property of the company running the site. If this is the case, think twice before publishing information that’s important to you.

4. Always make sure your anti-virus/security software is up-to-date – New threats come out all the time, and just because you bought a software three years ago doesn’t mean you’re still protected. As for mac users, I’m not sure what’s out there now, can you help me out in the comments?

The scary thing is, us trusting humans will likely continue surrender our personal information while being oblivious to how it may be used (sadly, myself included). To get more information on the issue, I spoke with Steve Dodd, who works for Sysomosis, a social media monitoring software, and has a background in online security application. Here are his thoughts on the subject:

Generally speaking, especially with the analytic and monitoring tools available, all personal information posted online is readily available to anyone, for any purpose.  Identity theft is a huge and growing issue these days.  The more you tell people about yourself and the more that can be cross referenced, the easier it is to determine how to access or control your online or even off line persona.  Like with email, never ever give up or expose personal financial information for any purpose.  It really doesn’t matter who you think you are communicating with or linking to, unless you have a secure connection, and even then…….

As a parent and an industry participant, I’m so very,very paranoid about what my “trusting” children are doing online.  They have no idea about what is really happening out there. They trust the internet like my generation trusted television, newspapers and other forms of traditional media.  The problem is that as their information is posted online, it’s available for anyone to see it, manipulate it and leverage it.  The web is faceless, impersonal and electronic.  There is no way to really know who you are exchanging information with and what they will do with it.

And, contrary to popular understanding, it maintains a permanent record.  Even though you might delete something, it never is truly gone. People are believing that online social networks (like email systems) are “free”.  They are not, businesses have significant ulterior motives for providing these services.  And information collection for future use is a primary one.  Since all of these services have been hacked many times and information stolen, who knows who has the data and what they are going to do with it….

Scary stuff! What do you do to protect yourself, or even more importantly, your children, online?

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