The shifting digital landscape entails a number of benefits for the average person. The ability to communicate with friends has never been easier, and services like email and social media enable a simpler way to spread information, organize gatherings or stay in touch with people.
However, the new era of sharing also has drastically reduced the amount of privacy that people have. Someone's relationship status is a few clicks away, a phone number or address is often not hard to find and the details about someone's past, such as where they went to school or where they previously lived, are retrievable by strangers in just a few minutes. While social media often allows for some level of privacy, it is rarely complete. A Facebook photo that's visible only to friends on one profile might be viewable by anyone under another profile.
Many users who opt out of using Facebook typically cite privacy as their main reason. Researchers from the University of Vienna discovered that 48.6 percent of the people who quit the social media site did so because of privacy issues. By contrast, less than 14 percent quit over reasons of dissatisfaction or any other problem with the network.
Their concern is understandable, both because of the way strangers can access personal information and the number of recent stories relating to information leaks, as Naked Security highlighted. Furthermore, Mark Zuckerberg's own stated belief that privacy is "outdated" may give some people reason to believe they should reduce their online presence.
Although people can delete their social media details in an effort to reduce their online footprint, Naked Security noted that some of the sites dedicated to this service have recently had trouble with Facebook. Seppukoo and The Suicide Machine, both of which helped users perform this function, have recently become unavailable, limiting the ability for users to maintain their privacy. Furthermore, individuals may find their information remains on the Internet despite their best attempts to remove it.
This may cause concern among some social media users. One of the risks associated with publicly available information is that password details can be gleaned by malicious actors. Authentication questions relating to someone's background can be answered with a quick search, which diminishes the security of a password and leaves people exposed to identity theft. Meanwhile, businesses and other organizations may experience strangers impersonating their customers or employees. In one incident, InformationWeek reported that attackers created fake Facebook pages to lure in NATO employees. Unfortunately, Facebook, has become a popular platform to launch social engineering attacks. Social networking sites have introduced new vectors of attack to either penetrate an enterprise or to simply steal personal identification information.
A matter of choice
However, no one should be forced to choose between using social media networks and online safety, particularly when some sites make it difficult to leave or otherwise delete content.
Identity management tools that avoid security questions by being tied to mobile devices or even credit card or banking information can provide a heightened degree of security regardless of someone's social media presence. Non-searchable, personal items tied into multi-factor authentication can protect people in a way that background details often cannot. Because this kind of software doesn't need individual facts, no amount of searching can discover how to access an account without authorization. Financial credential or smartphone-based safeguarding also reduces the amount of intimate facts that people give to e-commerce sites or other groups, which can satisfy some people's desire for privacy – an online store shouldn't need to know what someone's first dog was named, after all.
Organizations should institute identity management tools to help allay privacy concerns among their customers and constituents, as security cannot always be assured due to social media.