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Are you practising "safe surfing"?

Recent events on social networks have lead me to ask the question: Are you practising safe surfing?

Now that social networks have become a common place to exchange information with friends, family, followers – even the world – do you know what is safe to say without the possibility of someone getting hold of this information in order to use it against you? The answer, unfortunately, is very little. There are people on the internet who make it their goal to gain any information they can in order to get what they want, or rather, what you’ve got. One slip of concentration and you could have just published your location when you get home. 3 months later you could be broadcasting your excitement over just getting a new tablet. 6 months down the line you’re saying goodbye for a week while you’re going on holiday but are annoyed that you forgot your tablet – with that a person has your location, what you’ve got and that it’s sat at home while you’re on holiday. Oops.

A good example: A friend on Google Buzz has recently been receiving calls and messages from people – strangers – who due to his profile and public buzzes know who he is, where he lives, works and that he has recently purchased a recently released tablet. The tone of these calls is quite threatening – This person shall not be named.

It’s so easy to forget that unless you keep everything locked down, what you post is public to the world, not just the people who follow you and converse with you on a daily basis. Everything you post, every feeling you have and every time you display your location, someone – anyone – can see it on the internet.

It’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

For some people, this is nothing you’re not already aware of. However for those who may be getting a little flustered, there are some things you can address:

Are you displaying phone/address information on your public profile?

Whether you’re displaying it publicly or just to your contacts, does it really need to be there? Although people you befriend on the net are probably decent, trustworthy people, it doesn’t take much to work out that you can get a lot of information through a person’s private profile as soon as you’re in their contact list. Is displaying your address/phone info really necessary? I don’t think so. It’s need to know information which people – in most cases – don’t ever need to know.

Do you attach your location to every public post you make?

As awesome as it is to be able to attach your location when you Buzz/Tweet, to publish when you check into a location over Latitude/Foursquare or even just to publicly state your location in conversation – once again, is this necessary? Think of the implications! Looking at the big picture this information is publicly available and can one day come back to bite you.

A brilliant example of this can be seen here: http://checkintrack.appspot.com/ – every public Latitude check-in throughout the world is logged via this application, along with your public Google Profile!

At this very moment you may think checking into your home is fine, however as the above example showed, when you’re buzzing about your newest toy down the line and a desperate local sees what you have, this can have serious implications for you and your family.

Another thing to consider while on the subject of location – it’s becoming common-place for camera phones to embed a location into a picture you take, and can easily be extracted by someone with the right tools. If you’re concerned about showing your location when you take photos, either turn it off, or keep the photo-taking away from your home!

If you really do like the location features of modern devices, consider using city-level location as opposed to street-level.

Are you posting about everything publicly?

The option to post privately was put in place for a reason. Bragging about new toys, your job/income, when you go out every week and anything else mixed in with any of the above can give someone unpleasant your address, what you have and exactly when to break in. There is no reason to give this info away!

If you have the option on your social networking site, setting posts to be published to “friends” or “friends of friends” will, if nothing else, keep the information you share away from the world wide web and Google’s index.. While this doesn’t completely prevent the persistent from gaining any information, it does allow you to talk with your followers without putting everything on show to the rest of the world.

That’s pretty much all I wanted to say on this subject, but it’s come to my attention that people need to know / need reminding that at the end of the day, social networking is a very public form of communication and though our friends/followers are nice enough, a lot of people in this world are out to cause havoc, destruction and will stop at nothing to get their hands on what you’ve got – especially if they know you’re not at home to stop them.

Think about what you’re doing, do you maybe need to take another look at your profile? I think I may, though I don’t show my address/number, just to be sure I’m not giving anything away.