One of the current debates about WiFi and social media sites is the debate on privacy and how much information should be available for other people to see and use. Would you be prepared to share everything that you wrote by text, posted on social media sites, or even in a phone call?

The advice given is that if you put it out there, there is the potential for people to see it, one way or another. So, we should always be cautious when we are communicating in any way. Including electronically.

To snoop or not to snoop?

There is of course a big difference between sending a text and a social media post. You send a text expecting that it will be seen only the eyes of the person you are sending it to. However, there is always the chance that someone will forward, take a picture or screenshot whatever you have sent them. And be warned. The most likely snooper could be your own partner, particularly if it’s a man. A study found that 62% of the men and 34% of the women had admitted to looking through a partner’s phone without their knowledge. Snooping may come at a cost though, with around a third saying that they would possibly end their relationship if they found someone had snooped. 36% said that they wouldn’t ever leave their phone in a position to be snooped on. That might be a wise idea if you have something to hide. Individuals can also check the location history of an iPhone to see exactly where it has been and for how long. With location based tracking on, an iPhone will record the locations it has been in, with a promise that it’s for the owners eyes only. Not if you live with a snooper who could check your texts AND where you’ve been!

Social media sharing is different to text sharing. Facebook is 10 years old and the research shows an average of 338 friends for each adult user. The average number of followers on Twitter now stands at 208, so you can expect that with each post you create, more than hundreds of people are going to see what you have written. You could have all the privacy settings possible, but it only takes one other person to share what you have written or posted and it has the potential to become viral if it’s very contentious, hilarious or of the moment. Like Ella Birchenough, who got stuck in a drain trying to save her iPhone, or the selfie that went viral at the Oscars.

We did an earlier blog on the psychology of social media and we would still advocate listening to the advice by psychologist Chris Lee when referring to social media postings. Chris says ‘Behave as though you are with your friends but with your mother in the other room.’ Then there will be no regrets!

Effects of careless posts

Are people really thinking through their behaviour on social media? In today’s world we really do need to consider new scenarios. What about being asked to open up your social media accounts at a job interview? What would your potential employer find on there? Would you start to feel a cold sweat and plan your escape from the interview room? If someone tells their boss they are poorly and unable to get into work, then they get tagged in on a Facebook post at a party, it doesn’t bode well for their career plans. Bad tweets have cost people their jobs. Just tweeting about a bad day could actually lead to a loss of job according to this article in The Telegraph. Employers are well within their right to sack someone for even saying they have had a bad day at work, as it can bring the company into disrepute.

This also applies to staff talking about their customers. Here are some examples of how NOT to post on social media. Including a woman who was sacked for complaining about her boss after forgetting he was a ‘friend’ on there, a company who called their customers ‘cheap’ and an airline who called their passengers ‘smelly and annoying’.

Google knows

You may be surprised to learn how much information Google already knows about you. We explored the topic in another recent blog post. Google has every email sent via Gmail, all the chats on Google talk, a record of all the talks through Google Voice, all alerts on the calendar – and your contact list. It also has access to all your searches on people, places, politics, medical and interests. So, what does digital privacy actually mean, surely it’s already gone?

Facebook too

The act of just simply creating our Facebook profile means that you’ve already WILLINGLY shared information such as your email address, birthday and place of birth, names, status, occupation, family members, hobbies, likes and dislikes, views and friends. Not to mention your current location, games you have played, people you’ve blocked and even your (online) thoughts.

What do we get in return for all this sharing of our data?

Well, we get a lot of ‘free’ things. With a Google search we get access to a world of data. Anything we want to learn about we can access in the time it takes to type the search words. With Facebook we can socialise with people all over the world, in real time. It seems a pretty good trade off really.

The moral of this sharing story

Take as much care in what you post online as you would when you are in real social situations – if not more as it can be recorded FOREVER. When communicating electronically, think about your friends, teachers, employers and parents looking at what you are about to post. Do you still want to post it? It’s most likely that the people who you don’t want to see your posts won’t see them if you have the correct privacy and don’t add these people as your ‘friends’. In the end it is no-one else’s responsibility but our own to take charge of what we post.

More from the Digital Privacy series:

What do Google and the Tech Giants know about us?