A Little Privacy for Little Red Riding Hood

Posted on December 10, 2009 by Ana Cano

I got my wallet stolen last year on Halloween night. Perhaps it was my German dirndl costume that made me a target of attack. Or perhaps it was because I looked more like Little Red Riding Hood. I don’t know. Either way, I was vulnerable. And I paid for it by giving my robbers an opportunity to purchase monthly unlimited-ride subway cards, spending a night on the phone (in tears) to countless credit card companies and banks, and winding up at the NYPD for an afternoon.

What does this have to do with social media? Yesterday, Facebook declared Privacy Day on its ever-so-popular, you’re-living-under-a-rock-if-you’re-not-on-this social media platform.

In observance of this day, the company is starting to prompt all 350 million of its users to review and update their privacy settings. (Hint: Don’t mistakenly select “No thanks” when prompted, as I did, because now I’m worried I missed my chance.)

This is good news for those of us other Little Red Riding Hoods, riding through the woods via the Net for hours at a time, day or night. We tend to forget how easy it is for predators to get personal information out of our baskets of virtual goods, which includes enough data to create a whole new identity.

And yet we’re so willing to share so much of our personal stuff without really knowing what kind of trouble that could lead us into. I read recently that Sophos UK ran a research project to find out how much personal information users on Facebook were willing to share online. According to the 2007 project, “43% of those in the probe accepted an invitation to be friends with Freddi Staur—allegedly a 20-something from London, but in reality a green plastic frog.”

From dates of birth to full home addresses, the information this little amphibian was able to garner from “friends” who self-opted him into their lives was incredible. For most scammers—like the jerk who took my wallet—even a little bit of personal information can go a long, long way toward making your life miserable for years to come.

The lesson here is to be yourself, but be careful about what you share that goes into deeper detail than needed online. Delete things such as your birth year, common names that might be construed as passwords (i.e., nicknames), making your family reunion invites private rather than public, not listing so much detailed information about your children, or specifics on your home or work address—for starters.

If you’re one of the 350 million, you should take a few minutes to check Facebook’s very detailed policy online before you head back into those woods again.

And this time, you can do your part to make sure Little Red Riding Hood emerges victorious in the fight against the big, bad wolf—or, better yet, a green plastic frog.

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What Others Are Saying

  1. JPZ December 11, 2009 at 10:03 am

    New Yorker media writer Ken Auletta has come out with a must-read book on Google – “GOOGLED: The End of the World As We Know It” — One google exec. said “PRIVACY IS AN ATOMIC BOMB. OUR SUCCESS IS BASED ON TRUST.”

  2. Jeff Goodman December 14, 2009 at 10:02 am

    You didn’t miss your chance. Just go to settings (between your name and “Logout” in the top right hand corner of any Facebook page). Then, select “Privacy Settings.” Then you can control who gets to see what (including any photos of you in the German dirndl costume).

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