Discussion Topic #3: What you post on the Internet is not private – and what you can do about it

Consider these two real-life examples, which illustrate how un-private things can be online.

1. A teen at a Canadian high school e-mailed a photo of herself to her best friend. It was a personal photo and it was clear she didn’t want it shared. Later, the two girls got in a big fight, and the second girl printed a bunch of copies of the photo and taped them all over the school the next day.

2. A few years ago, an American sports reporter was changing her clothes in a hotel room. A creepy guy was spying on her and filmed her. He ended up posting the videos online. Even after suing him, the videos continued to circulate online, although most have computer viruses embedded into them.

For further evidence that what you post on the Internet is not private, consider this line from the privacy policy of one of the most popular social networking sites out there right now:

“Remember: the people you share with can always share your information with others, including apps.”

In other words, even if you have made your privacy settings very restrictive, this particular social networking site can’t guarantee that only your “friends” will actually see your personal information. It’s the same with e-mail or anything else you post online: just because it goes to one person doesn’t mean it’s going to stay with that one person.

Whatever you post can be copied, pasted and transmitted anywhere else on the Internet. Sometimes they can also be saved onto hard drives, printed out or e-mailed to anyone else.

So if you decide, 15 minutes later, or next week, to take down an embarrassing picture or comment, it might be too late.

So, what can you do about this?

First, if you don’t want something shared, don’t post it online.

Second, always think carefully before you post something, keeping in mind that everything you post could become public and could be permanent.

Third, restrict your privacy settings. Every social networking site has privacy settings and you can use them to take some control over who sees what you post. It could be everyone, or you can restrict it to specific groups and individuals. For more information, see our fact sheet Social Networking and Privacy.

In a nutshell, always remember that whatever control you have online, it’s only at the front end. This is why it’s so important to always think carefully before you post anything.

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