Comedian Jack Vale (pictured above) recently took to the streets of California to freak out unsuspecting pedestrians. Vale simply searched for social media posts around his current location and then did some research on the users to make them think he knew the personal details of their lives. You can view the entire prank in the video below.
While the prank was made for entertainment, it has raised some concerns about social media privacy. If it’s so easy for someone to learn these details on social media, maybe some people aren’t doing enough to protect their information.
Here are a few tips to help you protect your personal information on social media.
1. Monitor Yourself
Set up a Google alert for your name and/or business name so that you know if anyone is using your information inappropriately. It can also help you monitor your online reputation.
2. Review Your Settings
In a post on Social Media Today, Mike Johansson suggests:
“Understanding your FB settings may take 30 minutes one day, but it will be the best half hour you spend on yourself on the social network.”
Facebook, for example, automatically sets your posts and profile information to public. So if you want only friends or certain people to see your information, you’ll need to go into your settings and change them. Other sites also allow you to make private profiles or protect posts from certain users. Take at least a few minutes when signing up to review the settings and decide how to best use them.
3. Control Tagged Posts
Some sites, like Facebook, allow others to tag you in photos or posts that then appear on your own profile. To avoid these tagged posts accidentally giving away your location while you’re on vacation or traveling for business, The Nationwide Blog recommends:
“Prevent tagged posts from automatically appearing on your timeline by enabling the timeline review control. Then you can approve pictures snapped by friends or family during vacation after you get home.”
For other platforms that may not have the same settings, consider just talking to your friends and family to go over any guidelines for tagging you in posts or photos.
4. Use Caution With Location Based Apps
Checking in at local businesses and other locations can help you interact with brands and like-minded individuals. But letting people know where you are at all times can also be an obvious privacy concern. If you’re worried about people knowing your current location, but you still want to check in, doing so right before you leave can help you interact while still enjoying some privacy in person. You should also regularly monitor which apps have access to your location data on your mobile device. As Jonny Evans of Computerworld reports.
“It’s important to understand that when you allow a third-party app or website to use your information on an Apple product you become subject to the terms of service and privacy policies of those applications.”
5. Protect Your Mobile Devices
Mobile devices can hold so much personal data. It’s important to have a plan in place for if your device is lost or stolen so your information doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. Apps and programs like Norton Mobile Security or Google Sync can help you track your device or wipe your information if lost. You should also consider using a password to get into your device.
6. Use Two-Step Verification
Some programs like Gmail give you the option to use a two-factor login system. This often means that sites will require you use both your computer and phone to sign into your account. Taking advantage of this makes it twice as hard for people to hack into your accounts and get access to your information.
Dave Lewis of CSO Online explains:
“Two factor authentication is not the be all end all of authentication measures, but it sure beats using just a simple password.”
7. Consider Your Browser
Cookies and browser history are directly tied to online privacy. So clearing them regularly is a must. But you should also be aware of your preferred browser’s policies on cookies. An infographic at WhoIsHostingThis.com outlines some of the other factors that impact online privacy, such the kind of browsers we choose to search the Web. For example, the WhoIsHostingThis.com team suggests concerned individuals stay away from Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Safari, suggesting:
Instead, the site’s team recommends opting for Mozilla Firefox, Opera, or Tor.
8. Be Careful What You Share
Aside from not wanting your personal information out there for all to see, sharing certain tidbits with a large audience (like your Facebook connections or Twitter followers) can invite hackers and compromise your accounts. An official post at the Microsoft Safety & Security Center recommends:
“A common way that hackers break into financial or other accounts is by clicking the “Forgot your password?” link on the account login page. To break into your account, they search for the answers to your security questions, such as your birthday, home town, high school class, or mother’s middle name.”
So consider the information from such questions, and other personal tidbits, very carefully before broadcasting them on social media.
9. Don’t Blindly Click Links
Links in messages and posts on social networking sites aren’t always what they seem. Hackers and others trying to gain personal information can lure unsuspecting users into giving away their passwords and other data. Online security experts at Kaspersky Lab recently told Telegraph Media Group:
“Scammers use numerous techniques to get people to give away their Facebook logins. Clicking on an email link entitled ‘Facebook Christmas Specials’, for example, could open a fake Facebook portal in which users are required to enter their login details.”
10. Log Out
Staying logged into your social accounts and having them remember your passwords is certainly convenient. But it also leaves you vulnerable for anyone who uses or gains access to your device to use your accounts and find your personal data. To combat this, log in and out of your accounts each time you use them, and use particular caution on public or shared devices.
Image: Jack Vale Films