How Private is Anything You Share Online?

The Wall Street Journal has a fantastic series all about this topic – it is definitely worth the read.

The article that originally caught my eye was addressing the topic of data scraping and its pervasiveness. Most of us think that only some of what we might post online is vulnerable to being captured and attributed to us, right? Not so fast! We all know that Google has tons of information in its database about what we search for, and most of us don’t give it a second thought. We also all know that if you create an account with a web site, that company has your particulars.

But what about the stuff you post on a site behind a login, such as Facebook – that is private, right? You have complete control over who can see your postings through the site’s privacy settings… or do you? I’m not just picking on Facebook here, the data scraping is happening over the entire web. I’m using Facebook as an example because it is so widely used. Companies often engage services that help them to find information online about prospective employees, including “private” posts. The WSJ article highlighted a particular case where a marketing company was scraping a private patient discussion board.

Pretty unnerving stuff. I guess the old adage “never put anything into writing you wouldn’t want to have to admit to later” now goes a step further. Don’t post anything online that you don’t want to have to answer for later. To their credit, most web sites are actively mounting defenses against this type of scraping, but much like viruses, it is a constant game of catch up and innovation.

So what’s the bottom line? Most of us know that when we post something online, even if the site is “private” or password protected that there is always some risk of the data being accessed by unauthorized persons. In exchange for easy communication we have ceded some ground on the privacy front – it is a deal we are generally willing to make these days. But it is certainly worth thinking about…

Managing your online data and your online reputation gets more complicated by the day!

Access the WSJ section here.

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