Privacy in the Digital Age: A Lesson in "Safe Sharing"

By Allie Herzog "Privacy is dead. Get over it."  Scott McNealy, Co-Founder of Sun Microsystems, is said to have muttered these words more than 10 years ago.  Similarly, Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg recently echoed this sentiment in several controversial interviews. Privacy is clearly a hot-button issue these days as more and more people turn to Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp, etc. to share their every move with the world.  For all of us social media nerds, this sharing of information is a dream come true - but when it comes to sharing personal information, just how much is TOO much?

The other day a colleague  of mine (who shall remain nameless) confessed to committing a debatable blunder in the social space.  She had accepted a few (OK more than a few) friends on Foursquare that she didn't know in real life, or even online.  Being the socially savvy and  transparent folks that we are, she assumed Foursquare was no exception and didn't stop to think how sharing her check-ins with strangers (possibly stalkers, criminals or crazies) could be harmful.  And maybe it isn't?  This situation raised the tough question: how can we remain transparent while still maintaining some level of privacy, and more importantly, of safety?

After pondering the issue for a bit, a quick Google search led me to a myriad of news articles, blog posts, videos and photos all tackling the issue of privacy.  But really, who has time to scan through thousands of search results these days??

In an effort to save even just one reader from future embarrassment or even possible danger, here are five guidelines I personally follow as I toe the line between transparency and privacy.

1) If you are going to create a venue for your home on a geo-location based social network, DON'T include your specific address or apartment number (especially if you are a young woman living alone).  Would you write your full name and address on the bathroom stall of a bar?  If not, then you probably shouldn't share it with the online world either.

2) Don't accept TOTAL strangers on sites like Foursquare.  I'm sure I'm not alone in having several of what I call "Twitter friends" - meaning people I know only from their Twitter persona and probably engage with enough to know whether or not they're an ax murderer.  I accept not only "real-life friends" on Foursquare but also "Twitter friends."  Personally, I draw the line at complete strangers (especially those with obvious fake names or who live in far-away places such as Iceland...)

3) If you share a lot of personal pictures through mobile applications like Instagram, consider disabling the GPS feature that lets users know exactly where you are posting a photo from. (Unless of course you are hoping that your current Twitter crush will get the hint and stop by the bar you just posted a drunk table-dancing picture from...)

4) Don't click that link!  Literally 99% of the links I receive nowadays from a Facebook message, post on my wall, direct message on Twitter or otherwise, are spam.  It's true.  If a random Facebook friend you haven't spoken to in years suddenly posts on your wall (or tags you in a photo - the latest spammy move going around Facebook...)  it's spam, trust me.

Andddddd number 5.... (drumroll please....)

5) Don't share naked pictures of yourself (or sex tapes) unless you are FULLY prepared for them to go public!  Don't be stupid enough to believe that anything sent in a private message can't be posted publicly to Facebook in the blink of an eye. If you don't want your mother/brother/boss/child/neighbor/the world to see you naked, DON'T SHARE ANY PICTURES OR VIDEOS OF IT ONLINE!

Got your own social media rules to live by?  Share 'em in the comments and add to the list!