Last night’s episode of Criminal Minds was about a killer that found his victims through social networking sites. The episode specifically calls out Facebook and Twitter, but also references geo-location social networks like FourSquare. While the details of the episode are fiction, the episode brings up valid points about the information that we share online, and feels real enough to make you check your privacy settings following the show.
For the purpose of analyzing three types of social networks, I’m going to focus on Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare.
Facebook: Facebook is unique because it allows you to have a lot of flexibility with your privacy setting. While Mark Zuckerberg would urge you to keep an open profile with low privacy setting, that is not the smart move. First, make sure you’re only “friends’ with people that you know and can trust. You don’t have to accept friend requests from everyone, especially if you don’t know them or don’t like them. Then, you can limit the amount of information that is available to people. Don’t post where you are at all times, don’t give out your home address or phone number, and don’t put up pictures that share too much about yourself.
Twitter: Twitter has two privacy settings – share everything or create a protected account, meaning that you need to approve everyone that has access to your Twitter feed. If you have a standard account it means that anyone can see what you write, regardless of if they are following you or even have a Twitter account. Think about this again, ANYONE can see what you post. If you’re giving out details about your current location, announcing when you’re home alone or on vacation, anyone can see that. Twitter is much safer as a communication tool that does not offer an excess of information on your whereabouts or personal life.
FourSquare: FourSquare might be the most dangerous social network of them all since its primary goal is to broadcast where you go, and how often. Users check in to locations that they visit, ranging from the office, movies, restaurants, parks, and even their homes. While this builds an online network of people that you can get tips from, it’s really risky. Anyone can see where you are and learn about your daily and weekly patterns. It’s a lot of personal information to provide strangers with, and is a social network that I won’t go near for personal use, no matter how many discounted Frappucinos Starbucks will try and bribe me with.