There is a video doing the rounds at the moment which is a reminder to be mindful of what information you disclose on the Web. The video uses Facebook as a starting point and perhaps a good illustration of the potential dangers that are present with all social networking services.
One of the appealing aspects of social networking sites (at least from a personal perspective) is the ability to share things about your life with a larger group of friends you may only know on the Web. You can share your taste in music, movies, entertainment and just about anything you might want to share. There are a number of robust and feature-rich services designed to help you share your life and have a great time doing it. Facebook is a great example of this and is a tremendously popular service. For those of you who haven’t yet signed up, Facebook is a site on which you create a profile with varying degrees of detail (which you can set) which you make available to people you choose to make it available to.
As with any social networking site (or any site on the Web which you publish information about yourself to), it is a very good idea to decide how much information about yourself you are prepared to publish on the Web. This may sound a bit obvious but people assume that because their information may only be available to other users of the same service and who they identify as friends, they gloss over what the operators of the services themselves may do with that information. Think back to the link to your social network’s terms of service or terms and conditions of use. Did you read that fine-print or did you just tick the box and click “OK”? If, like most of us, you just clicked through then you may have given the service concerned the right to sell your personal information for marketing purposes. That means that the information that you only really intended to share with your friends could find itself in the hands of someone who don’t even know and perhaps may not want to know.
Granted this may all be a little alarmist but the point I want to make is that you should either make a point of reading terms of service before you sign up or you should identify information that you will not disclose on the Web at all and stick to that. The fact is, unless you don’t disclose any personal information about yourself on the Web, ever, you are mistaken if you believe you can somehow remain anonymous. Google has a really long memory. If you are going to share information about yourself then the best thing you can do is draw a line between the information you are comfortable handing out on the Web and information that you are not comfortable with people having and make sure you never cross that line. At least then you are not likely to be caught out because you happened to just check the box and click “OK”. Think of this as contraception for the Web.