Virtual Village: Social Media Safety: Part 2

In my last article, I introduced the idea that you should approach keeping your online information safe in the same way you would protect yourself in real life.

Let’s consider this again and look at your social media profile.

Setting this up properly is important, since some or all of your profile information is publicly available. You wouldn’t allow a complete stranger to rifle through the contents of your wallet, yet an improperly created profile allows much the same thing.

Identity theft is a rapidly increasing problem. One of the ways I can convince someone that I am you would be to have some of your basic information. A good starting point would be your name, address and date of birth.

The first two are almost impossible to defend against, but the last one is simple to protect.

While Facebook, for example, requires a date of birth for your account, it is neither necessary for you to enter accurate information nor to have that information displayed. You can edit your profile with the choice not to display your birthday.

This, of course, means you will miss out on all of yourFacebook friends sending you birthday greetings. However, if you have reached a certain point in your life, as I have, forgetting that you’re another year older is a good thing.

Alternatively, your friends can wish you happy birthday, but just not on the exact date, which provides an excuse to celebrate twice each year, should you choose.

Another thing to think about is your profile picture. OnFacebook, it is always publicly available. Many people choose to post pictures that are not identifiable, such as photos of their pets, or a scenery shot.

If you don’t wish to post your own picture, choose another you would rather use, and post it instead.

One thing most social media sites require is a valid e-mail address. Since this is used for account confirmation and notification purposes, you must provide your e-mail address.

You have several choices here, however.

You can create a single-use e-mail account with a web based e-mail provider, such as gmail, for only this purpose. You can also choose not to have your address displayed as part of your profile.

To save yourself from spam and possible attempts to gain your personal information, I strongly recommend that you do not display your e-mail address.

Two pieces of optional information that profiles often allow are your home address and phone number. I don’t recommend posting either of these publicly.

Anyone who really needs either piece of information can contact you directly through your social media site, and you can choose to whom you provide that information.

Actually, there is no requirement for you to state even what city or country you live in. Depending on your circumstances, you may wish to avoid putting this on your profile as well.

Any information you provide gives a potential identity thief a jump-off point for stealing yours.

Finally, Facebook provides an option to display your profile information, other than your name and picture, only to people you have friended. This is a wise choice, and limits the extent of information you leave in the public domain.

Your profile is your face to the world. How much would you like to display publicly?

Keeping your profile limited to the information you would willingly give to complete strangers is both wise and easy to accomplish.

Doug Rutherford teaches computer networking and security for Yukon College and three post-secondary educational institutions in British Columbia.

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