By Alec Harris & Cody Shultz. A joint privacy series also available here: https://augmentedprivacy.medium.com/
While social media can be a great way to stay in touch with family and friends, particularly during a pandemic, it can have a dark side. More and more we are seeing stories about people that have been victimized because of content posted on social media. Being “smart” about social media use is about always deferring to privacy. In just two “easy” steps, you can reduce your digital footprint.
Step 1: Delete all of your social media accounts
Step 2: Have all of your friends and family delete theirs too.
Going off the digital grid makes you a more difficult target for cyber criminals, but most people cannot or will not totally remove themselves from social media, much less ask their immediate social network do the same. The trick, then, is to curate your digital persona and mitigate risk wherever possible. And therein lies the biggest difficulty with limiting your online exposure. Although you may have taken several steps to protect your privacy, those with access to you, typically your family and friends, may not have the same outlook on privacy. While an individual may not have a social media presence, or has it significantly locked down, their spouse, their mom, and/or their kids may be very open and share all sorts of information that cyber criminals can use against them. Almost everyone has a “weak link” in their social network.
That said, most people still underestimate the significance of the content posted on social media, or the risks it poses at the hands of someone who wants to harm them. A post may seem benign at the time, but a capable adversary will patiently collect information until it becomes meaningful in aggregate. Many will be familiar with the 2017 robbery of Kim Kardashian West while she was in in Paris. As the French paper Le Monde detailed in its article reviewing the police interview with the alleged mastermind Aomar Air Khedache, social media was his greatest planning tool.
“The case itself was given on the Internet, with everything. The jewelry presented on the Internet, stating that she was not wearing fake jewelry. That there was no forgery, the schedules when she came to France (…) you just had to look on the Internet to know everything, absolutely everything.” (Machine translated from French).
You may not have the wealth or celebrity of a Kardashian, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be a victim. The Independent cites a study by Hillarys that surveyed 2,000 British citizens and found that 1 in 12 were burgled or had property stolen after posting about being away on vacation or a new expensive purchase on social media. Worse still, you may be on the hook for it with your insurance company too. The Telegraph explains that victims of burglaries while away on holiday may be found uninsured, noting that many insurance carriers require policyholders to take reasonable care to prevent loss. Posting your assets and absence from the home on social media, insurers argue, is not taking reasonable care.
Challenges concerning how much information to share arise when for various reasons such as celebrity status, business development, or professional networking, you may want to actively promote yourself, or your business, using social media. Here are some tips on how to be smart with your social media use:
· Periodically review the content of information you post, and that is posted about you. Timing matters. Are there images or text that would indicate your home is unattended? If you must post travel pictures, wait until you return home. Is anything posted that might reveal the location of something that someone would want to steal or harm?
· Don’t use the same password across sites and use different emails and usernames for every platform. In the event one of your social media accounts is compromised, eliminating a common means of access reduces the risk of having a larger mess to clean up.
· Make sure you register your business name across all different social media accounts and online portals, even if you don’t plan on using it. You do not want there to be ambiguity in the public about who is behind a social media handle and what it is posting. For example, you may be surprised to find out who is behind Nissan.com. It’s not the car company, but a North Carolina based computer company named after its founder, Uzi Nissan.
· Don’t mix business and personal accounts. Bifurcating your work and home life is always a good idea, especially with social media. Posting memes or political commentary may be okay from your personal account but could create risk to yourself and your business if coming from your professional account.
· Make it a habit to check your privacy settings every time you change your home furnace filters — about every three months. Lock down your social media accounts as much as is reasonable for your situation. Then, routinely check to make sure the settings stay locked down. Making it a habit to check your settings on a set schedule makes remembering to do so easier. Be aware that sometimes privacy settings reset to default when applications update.
· Never “check in” to your actual location. It’s called “putting yourself on the X” and it’s as bad as it sounds.
· Post pseudonymously or with an abridged account name wherever possible. Think your pseudonym will get overlooked? Ask Satoshi Nakamoto.
· Be wary of any unsolicited outreach on social media. Even if the contacting account appears to come from someone you know, consider the possibility that it’s an impersonator.