Your Expectation of Privacy: Think Before You Share

February 14, 2011 at 2:05 pm 1 comment

By Mary Ludloff

I am often surprised (okay, taken aback) by what I find out about someone on the Internet. It seems to me that most people have an expectation of privacy that simply does not exist. I know, I know, you have privacy settings that you use for your various accounts—but have you googled yourself lately?

Case in point. My nephew graduated from college recently and he asked me for some help regarding his job search. I think that he expected me to edit his resume, help with cover letters, and run him through some standard interview questions. Which I did.

What he did not expect was that I would google him and then advise him on what I found and did not find. For example, he had no LinkedIn profile. My advice: set one up and ask people you’ve worked for in internship positions as well as your professors and academic advisors to recommend you. He had a Facebook account with privacy settings on and different groups set up (family versus friends). My advice: good, but please make sure that those settings are indeed working (you would be surprised at how many of my friends and family thought they had set these up appropriately but did not). He had no Twitter account. My advice: good, because Twitter can create an image of you that may work for you or against you in the job market (more on this later).

Now, I am going to tell you something that you probably already are subconsciously aware of: if I don’t know you and our paths are about to cross, I am going to google you, I am going to look at your LinkedIn profile, I am going to read your blog, and yes, I am going to read your Twitter feed. You probably do this as well, but you just don’t think about what it means.

Today, more than ever before, we are able to find out all kinds of things about someone from our laptops, our cell phones, and our iPads. You can build a pretty clear picture of a person from what you read about them: from political leanings, to family, to personal interests, to business interests. And yes, this applies to me as well. That’s why I am very careful about what I put “out there” because once it’s out there, there’s no getting it back. In other words, you can’t unring the bell.

Why am I blogging about this? Well, some items “came across my virtual desk” last week that reminded me of what is private and what is not:

  • A press release announcing a recently hired executive. As is my custom, I googled this executive and to my surprise found no LinkedIn or any other professional information. However, I did find their Twitter account (public) and read the feed which, rightly or wrongly, left me with a certain impression. This was probably not the impression that the company or executive wanted me to have but this is the world we live in. What’s out there can say more about you than you want.
  • A blog post about Internet safety and your kids. I encourage everyone to read this because it clearly outlines what kind of information you may unwittingly share that can come back to haunt you. If you read any of my posts, you will notice that I may mention work colleagues by name, but never mention friends and family by name. That’s on purpose as they are entitled to their “privacy.” And in case you missed my post on how much information is out there about you, you should visit Spokeo and find out.
  • An email with attached photos. In the body of the email was the following: “Keep private please.” This is the world we now live in—we need to explicitly tell our friends and family who we share things with what is private and what is not because they may not have the same expectation of privacy that we do.

You may be surprised that I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Let’s be honest: it’s human nature to want to find out as much as you can about someone before you meet them. In the “olden days” (before social media), we might call up colleagues or friends “who knew someone, who knew someone else, who was a colleague of this person, etc.” I have sat in many a venture meeting where a VC (these guys would put private detectives to shame) would say,  “So-and-so had this to say about you (insert uncomplimentary term here), what do you have to say about it?” Disconcerting? Yes, but it’s a reality you had to deal with.

Today, I think that you have much more control over how the world perceives you as long as you understand that we are all “looking at you.” Now, what’s right for me may not be right for you, but be clear on the fact that what you put “out there” may say an awful lot about you. As my mother used to say, “Think before you speak.” In today’s world it probably should be: “Think before you share (on the Internet).”

Entry filed under: Data, General Analytics. Tags: , , , , , .

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