Did you know you could lose insurance benefits from putting photos online? Or that a Tweet can put you in jail? Or that the FBI might be friending you on Facebook? Or that even brand-new service Chatroulette isn’t truly anonymous? I’ve blogged recently on my concerns about privacy trends, and it’s quite the hotly debated topic these days.
I see two primary reasons why you shouldn’t do something online:
- Personal Harm/Loss
- Future Regret
So without further adieu, here’s 11 Things You Should Never Do Online!
- Show your goods. One would think this would be obvious. One would imagine that an individual would not normally choose to show their private parts to the entire world, presuming they are not in the adult entertainment industry. It took me less than a minute on Chatroulettemap to find a picture of a naked guy, and his hometown (pictured here, safely edited by me). Here are some NSFW pictures found on Facebook. Why shouldn’t you do this? How about “decency” or “self-respect”? I wouldn’t even call it prudish to say there is a reason for the phrase “private parts” and some things are simply best left out of the public eye. Leave it to the pro’s, people. Nobody’s going to be walking around when they are 80 years old saying to themselves “I sure regret not showing my penis to the entire world.” Unless they have some kind of exceptional penis, that is.
- Meet a random stranger in a non-public location. As a child I was taught not to get into cars with strangers. Of course I was also using public transportation as of age 8, but I don’t think that’s too contradictory. We’ve heard numerous stories of people meeting strangers via sites like Craigslist, then bad things happen. I have no problem with online dating services, but use some common sense people. How about having 2-3 dates in public before you decide to even reveal your home address (assuming you haven’t done so already online – see more below)? Why shouldn’t you do this? Pretty much goes without saying – and while there will always be creeps and they will always find methods of doing terrible things, but how about not enabling them to occur so easily?
- Publicize travel plans. Be it foursquare, brightkite, gowalla, plancast, tripit, dopplr or anything else, the concept that an individual would specifically tell anybody in public that they aren’t at home is something I personally find mind-boggling. Whether it’s a simple burglary (or much much worse), there’s no greater bait I can think of for a wrong-doer. And to think that all criminals are simply too stupid to figure this out is somewhere between ignorant and elitist. Heck, teenagers in the UK find empty swimming pools with Google Earth, and thieves last year used it to find and steal koi fish from backyards. Why shouldn’t you do this? It doesn’t take extreme paranoia or a DVD collection of Law and Order to come to the simple conclusion that these activities are asking for trouble. Combine public records with services like plancast and twitter, and you have the equivalent of a “how-to rob me” service that you are proactively choosing to use - it’s gonna happen.
- Share identity-revealing data. Over 9 million Americans have identity theft issues every year. Why on Earth would you make it easier for them? Further, one of the easiest methods of gaining access to an identity is through simple human error and naivete. If you put personal information, like say your credit card activities, proactively into the public eye, you are asking for problems. And unlike physical thieves (per the above point), phishers currently use technology to steal information. You want to put your phone number in public? Fine! Get a Google Voice account, set up a redirect, and use that. But don’t put the same number you have to authenticate important personal records! Why shouldn’t you do this? Actually this should be the opposite question – why oh why would you put private data out in public? If I can’t get you to stop buffoonery, fine, but at least be on the watch for things that can impact your finances and credit score!
- Ignore privacy requests/needs of others. It’s perfectly legal to take pictures of people in public. It’s also perfectly legal to put those pictures in the public spectrum (so long as you aren’t profiteering from their likeness). But that doesn’t mean you have to. Some people prefer to keep their lives completely out of the public eye, and they have the right to do so (despite what many social media bloggers would like to say). Just because you choose to publicize your life doesn’t mean everyone else has to as well. Furthermore, and more specifically, parents should rethink what pictures they put online in public or semi-public locations. Maybe your kids won’t want those pictures to be accessible one day when they are older – and I can guarantee they’ll have a tough time taking them down. The oh-so-cute moments in the bath might be funny to reveal at a wedding or bar mitzvah (both private events, mind you), but how about during their sophomore year in high school, to the whole class? Not so much. Why shouldn’t you do this? It’s inconsiderate – and that’s enough of a reason.
- Reveal vices. My healthcare company is raising our rates 35% this year – despite no claims or major changes of status. Their business, in a nutshell, is to profit as greatly as possible, which they accomplish by (1) raising rates, and (2) giving out minimal claims/benefits. I will say the following unbiased and bluntly: it is in their interest to find evidence of you smoking, drinking, and otherwise acting recklessly because it lets them profit more. If I were you, I’d make sure there were no tweets, status updates, or anything else containing “So drunk I almost fell down the stairs” or “Onto my 2nd pack today. Boy these Marlboros are smooth” etc. Why shouldn’t you do this? If you don’t think insurance companies, healthcare providers, or other “big brother-like” organizations will use social technologies to raise rates or otherwise increase profits, you are just fooling yourself. Drink, smoke, be merry – and just enjoy it with the people you are actually spending the time with (they’ll probably appreciate it too).
- Mock those you may do business with. A famous PR exec once tweeted disparagingly about a magazine his firm had to pitch. The editor in chief saw the tweet. An ad agency salesman on his way to pitch a client openly mocked the city in which that client lived. The client saw the tweet. Disparaging a potential (or existing) client is generally speaking, not the way one gets more business from said client. The whole concept of doing things in public means anyone might just see them – including the people you are trying to get to spend money on you. Why shouldn’t you do this? How about… “livelihood”?
- Sound like a schmuck. Per the above point, you never know who is going to see the words you write. Your “witty banter” with an old high school friend on Facebook might not sound so clever to a potential employer. I’ll be the first to admit that I am a cynic and an outspoken one, and I am certain this colors peoples’ opinions of me. But I also do my best to sound objective and educated about whatever topics I’m talking about. While I’m sure I’ve tweeted things I shouldn’t have, or left comments on blogs that could be misconstrued, I generally make a concerted effort to consider my commentary and how it would be interpreted by a complete stranger (though I could still use improvement myself).Why shouldn’t you do this? Your words will come back to haunt you – how about just not saying them in the first place?
- Publicize your partying or let your friends put up embarrassing photos/videos of you. The most famous example I’ve found so far involves a swimmer and an arbitrarily-banned substance. Whoever took that picture is, in a word, a jerk. Not as big of a jerk as whomever made this happen, but a pretty big jerk nonetheless. But when you compare it to the amazing amount of inappropriate stuff you can easily find with simple Google searches, you really start to wonder if the entire concept of self-respect has gone out the window.Why shouldn’t you do this? A future employer? A future spouse? Your kids one day? Your grandkids? How about anyone you want to not massively unimpress one day.
- Be inconsistent with your real life claims. If you call in sick, stay offline! Let’s face it, lying consistently can be challenging – it’s something you really have to work hard at. So if you are going to call in sick, you probably shouldn’t update your Facebook status or tweet or do anything else that conflicts with your claim. I recall the classic “which tire?” tale from university lore, only dramatically more impactful with public timelines and social presences. You should also know that when you take pictures and upload them to sites like Picasa or Flickr, the actual day/time is logged in that photo somewhere as well. Why shouldn’t you do this? Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you not to lie or otherwise make false claims in the office space or personal life. But if you are going to, try to tow the line with your online presence as well.
- Assume you are not being recorded. We decided at the office to try playing Chatroulette last month. Every time we used it, we recorded our session (using freely available screen capture tools), just in case something funny/outrageous happened (and it did, and no, I won’t be sharing with the group). Your web history is recorded by Google (if you are logged in). Facebook knows everything you’ve done. Most Web sites store your IP address along with the comment you leave. The Internet Archive stores copies of just about everything. Your cookies have privacy flaws. When you do something on the Internet, it is there to stay. Don’t forget it!
The funny thing (if there is one) on the above list is if you were to ask your grandparents if you should do any of those things, they’d give you one of those “what’s wrong with you boy?” looks. But instead here you are reading my blog because it’s actually a topic. Them kids today…