Nowadays, most of the people have a public Internet persona, sometimes without even knowing it. Surely, once accessing the net and setting up a few accounts, anybody should be aware that they “exist” online. Excepting the case where a person is really privacy-sensitive and the accounts are hardly relate-able to the real individual.
But how much control does each individual have over its own brand it’s a different thing.
If you think your data will stay put on the Internet, then you are in for a big surprise. Nobody is an island in this sea of information. Various automated directories will farm your data – some because it’s the only way they exist, by centralizing various information, others because they compile and sale databases to whomever is willing to pay for it.
The reverse of the coin is that potentially interested parties adopted the practice of looking for your online footprint. Thus, they might find out things – and interpret them. For example, the practice of “googling up” candidates in Human Resources is frequent. Yet, much like bragging it may allow distorted facts to pass on as reality. And unlike bragging, some may find themselves blacklisted without any explanation, and without any chance of making things clear.
This is just somewhere in the gray area – but imagine what happens when malicious entities target an individual. Getting to know somebody’s area of interest is not so difficult nowadays – Social Media showcases quite a lot. Social engineering – a technique involved in hacking – makes quite a day out of it.
The pitfalls of social media
Even the more privacy-educated individuals have their moments. They have friends and relatives that are completely unaware of this angle, or simply cannot keep track of every setting out there. Let’s recap one thing – the social media networks and apps do not align their default settings with the stance that would protect your privacy. You have to manually configure the settings at your disposal. And you have to do this again and again each time new features come in.
Why is that? Nobody has to look too far for the answer – essentially social network are jars of honey that attract a lot of customers, bedazzled by the benefits of the online community and by the playful side of these tools. A lot of customers equals a lot of data. Marketing data. Data which is valuable, which continually updates itself, and which is usually volunteered cheerfully by all those eager to show off their life, their options, their latest acquisitions – to their connections. And ultimately to the whole wide world out there.
Curiosity acts both ways in social networking. We are curious to see how others are doing, and we also cannot wait to see their reactions to the various things we showcase. Both work out great for data farming…
The tools that allow individuals to reclaim control
The first line of defense is education & self-censorship. Always be informed what the risks are – and run a few questions in your head, as a reflex, before volunteering things that could expose you and those related to you.
Secondly, find a few moments from time to time to see what is new, what has changed around your info. Correct the old settings – it’s always better to prevent than to treat.
Another pretty famous line of defense – that transcends social networking – would be exerting the right you have over your own data.
The European GDPR will be enforced this spring – it is the standard in data protection, in what the companies that deal with data are concerned. It works both online and offline. It is meant to prevent accidents, like those who led in the past at major data leaks.
However, there is no use in a standard trying to protect your privacy when you splash around your personal data, so understanding the importance of owning your data protection is essential.
The right to be forgotten
The right to be forgotten, as translated into regulations and procedure that bind Internet operators, such as Google, tries to make sure that securing potentially damaging, private information about individuals is at least available.
The procedure is not mandatory, as it involves approval of the requests. However, there are people who act upon it – and a recent status update coming from Google itself illustrates this. Basically, URLs can be delisted as an effect of a successful RtBF action. You can see more here.
A word of advice
Social interactions used to take place within certain common sense boundaries, and politeness was the sign of any educated man in a society not so far up in the past.
Today, the way we expose ourselves in the digital environment, as well as the way we expose others, could be imbued with a sense of prevention, of data protection conscientiousness and, ultimately, of responsibility.
When you won’ protect your own data, how is it that you expect others to do so? Well, now some of them are bound to do it, due to the new regulations. However, there are so many free agents that prey on your data mistakes, that it is highly preferable you would be attentive and informed on what your privacy is concerned.