A week or so ago I went to brunch with some friends at a swanky restaurant in the Distillery District of Toronto. After stuffing my face with smoked salmon, fine cheeses and a messy pile of eggs, I returned home to curl up on the couch and get caught up on work (translation – check my social media streams). When I jumped on to Facebook the first thing I saw was a message from one of the people I ate breakfast with that same morning. Well, to be precise, it wasn't a message but instead he had “checked me in” at the Boiler House as soon as he arrived in the dining room (i.e. I am at 55 Mill St. with “Amber Mac”).
While I make a living teaching people how to use social media, it struck me that many people would prefer that others did not identify their exact whereabouts without their permission. It's one thing to tag a person in a photo on Facebook, but broadcasting a person's exact location could be a violation of that person's privacy.
Let me give you another example. This past weekend I went to a one-day professional-development seminar. When I arrived home I discovered a video clip of me from the exercise portion of the event (doing stuff like breaking arrows against a wall with the strength of your neck, see above) and a photo of me on Twitter. Before any of you throw up your hands and remark that my activities on social media sites are in fact very public so it would appear that I condone this behaviour, let me just say that I think that good digital etiquette dictates that one should ask before sharing photos, locations and videos of others.
If you haven't encountered a situation like the examples I mention above, it's only a matter of time before someone in your social network eats away at your privacy online. Or, if you're one of those people who likes to overshare on behalf of others, here are a few tips to set you straight.
1. Posting photos – Whether you're posting a picture on your blog, on Twitter, or on Facebook, ask the person or people in the photo if it's okay if you share this on the web. Most people will approve the posting, but don't assume everyone will. Facebook does have some privacy settings in place so that you can review updates you're tagged in before they are shared. Within your Privacy Settings select “How Tags Work” to turn on Timeline Review of posts that your friends tag you in before they go live on your profile (they may still appear elsewhere, FYI).
2. Using check-ins – I've always been timid about location-based services. I see their value, but I don't find myself participating on a regular basis. However, Foursquare's user base continues to increase (as of December 2011, they had 4 million check-ins a day) and Facebook check-ins are not going away anytime soon. Chances are that if you're signed up for Foursquare you're comfortable with the check-in philosophy. However, on Facebook a lot of users don't understand this feature and don't know that the service automatically allows people to check you into places. To turn this feature off, go to “How Tags Work” in Account Settings “Disable” this setting.
3. Broadcasting Hangouts – Google's new “killer app” within its social network is its Hangouts, an excellent way to do a multi-person video chat with your friends or family. I've started to do Sunday hangouts with my nieces, so we can have a number of people in our family on the call. While hangouts are relatively new (U.S. President Barack Obama hosted his first this week), there are many appealing features to this technology. From a privacy perspective, just be aware that anyone you invite to a hangout can invite anyone else. Also, there is no way to kick a person off a hangout (so you're stuck with them for better or for worse). Finally, and I hope they change this feature soon, hangout notifications will appear in other people's streams (for example, when I did a hangout with my family, no one was able to join if they weren't invited but others within our networks were able to see that we were doing this video chat together).
If you're careful about how you use these various online networks, and teach your friends proper digital etiquette, you can still enjoy the benefits of social media without jeopardizing your personal privacy.