Reminder: Social Media Isn’t Private

How carefully do you consider the risks of posting personal information on social networking sites? Do you sometimes think that you divulge too much about yourself, your co-workers, or your employer?

We all know that social media is a brave new world, and in many cases, the “rules” are being made up as we go along.  But even so, I’m always somewhat surprised to hear how many people still struggle to establish clear boundaries between their private lives and the information they (very publicly) post online.

For instance, a new survey found that three-quarters of Americans (76 percent) worry that the privacy settings on social networking sites are not adequately protecting their personal information. But even so, 43 percent admit that they typically just click “agree” without reading the entire terms and conditions on social networking sites.

More than four in ten (44 percent) of those polled said they are concerned that the personal information they share online is being used against them. Still, more than a quarter (28 percent) admits that they rarely think about the consequences of posting TMI (“too much information”).

The 2010 Lawyers.com Social Networking Survey is loaded with contradictions like these. People say they worry about their privacy; however, they continue to volunteer personal information. While using social media, survey respondents said they have posted:

  • their first and last name (69 percent)
  • photos of themselves (67 percent)
  • an email address (51 percent)
  • travel plans (16 percent)
  • cell phone numbers (7 percent)
  • home address (4 percent)

The survey, which drilled down deeper to explore privacy issues in the workplace, also found that 40 percent of those polled think it is okay for managers to monitor their employees’ personal tweets and Facebook pages. Among those who use social networking sites, 40 percent believe that losing their job because of information they’ve posted on a social networking site could happen to them. Yet, more than half (53 percent) in the survey said that inappropriate comments or posts on social networking sites should not affect someone’s employment.

Obviously, there’s still a significant disconnect between the way people use social media and their perceptions of privacy and responsibility. Interestingly, these survey results were released only a few days after the Wall Street Journal reported that all ten of the most popular Facebook apps have been sharing Facebook members’ user ID numbers with dozens of outside companies.

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