August 10th - 2010

WIRED OFFICE: Privacy and Social Media

Conduct an internet search on yourself by entering your name in a search engine (e.g., Google, Bing, etc.).

Conduct an internet search on yourself by entering your name in a search engine (e.g., Google, Bing, etc.). Are the search results producing anything unexpected? Do you mind if people see the information about you that is being displayed? Often, information and photos you posted to one of the various social media tools and thought were available to only your online “friends”, gets picked up by the search engines. It is important to keep in mind that the entire world, including clients and potential clients, employers, family and friends can, if they so choose, view this same information. For many social media tools, there are privacy settings. However, if something is truly private, you might want to reconsider posting it online. Anything electronic has the potential to live in cyberspace indefinitely.

It is not our intention to scare you away from using social media. We would, however, like to build awareness about protecting your privacy/identity. Social media has become a part of everyday life for many people – and the number is growing every day, increasingly amongst older Canadians. People chat, blog and spend time on sites such as Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and LinkedIn. These are great platforms for reconnecting with old friends, colleagues and acquaintances. They are effective methods of quickly communicating and sharing information with our online communities. They can be invaluable as marketing tools.

Legislation and social media
The data collected by the various social media platforms has raised considerable concern about privacy. Governments in Europe, North America and Asia worry about the potential for data theft, for personal identities to be mined, or children to be exploited. While it appears that people are readily willing to share information online, the government authorities are adamant that the various social media platforms comply with privacy legislation.

As a result of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada probe, Facebook agreed to adopt some recommendations, including providing an explanation as to why users have to provide their date of birth at registration, and various levels of privacy settings for user-published content. Other recommendations, such as limiting the ability of third-party applications to pull non-essential user information, were not immediately adopted. International privacy officers are keeping a close watch over the various social media to prevent any privacy mishaps. It is important for users to realize sensitive information which can easily be posted to sites is vulnerable to advertisers and third parties through applications like games or quizzes (e.g., FarmVille, Café World, etc). This information is often collected via forms filled out when registering as a user of these free applications.

Governments do not want to be seen as legislating against the freedom and fun of the internet, but they also see privacy as playing a crucial role in democratic societies, one that must be protected.

Protecting yourself
As a social media user, what can you do to protect yourself and your data?

  • Read the site’s privacy statement and policies.
  • Don’t give out personal information. While posting your name is reasonable – it’s difficult to connect with people if they can’t find you – not all optional requested information is necessary. For example, it isn’t necessary to post your birth date (including year). Be cautious about listing your phone and address. If you feel that you should post a phone number, list a business number rather than a cell phone number.
  • Does the site allow others to see your profile without your consent?
  • Don’t feel obligated to accept a friend request from someone you don’t know.
  • Choose the highest and most restrictive security setting available. Restrict your network so that only your “friends” can see your information.
  • Think before posting personal information and photographs. Even though we tend to think about our personal sites as private, in reality, many can be seen by anyone.
  • Are you posting information that is embarrassing or that fraudsters could use?
  • Keep in mind that even sites with extensive privacy options may be required to make your personal information available to certain authorized persons, including law enforcement agencies.
    You need not be afraid to use social media sites, but some “web smarts” will help keep your information safe.

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For more information contact

Ontario Real Estate Association

Jean-Adrien Delicano

Manager, Media Relations

416-445-9910 ext. 246