Updated December 2014
Tweeting pics from your tropical vacation? Sharing your weekend plans on Facebook? You may want to think twice before you hit “Post.” Sure, it’s fun to share snapshots of your margaritas on the beach (and make the folks back home jealous), but advertising your vacation on social networking websites is a recipe for theft and burglary. And it’s not just your vacation plans that can cause problems. Over-sharing details (“Watching the game on our new 60-inch LCD TV!”) gives would-be burglars tempting information about your new electronics and can even lead to identity theft.
Less than a decade ago, answering machine greetings like “You’ve reached the Jones’ but we can’t take your call, we’re hitting the slopes this weekend!” could move your home to the top of a burglar’s target list. Now, Facebook and Twitter postings may do the same.
Over the last few years, anecdotal evidence increasingly points to a connection between sharing whereabouts on social media with an increase in burglaries. And while there’s no hard data measuring this spike, safety experts from the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia have all warned social media users to re-think their sharing habits.
Social media is a great way to stay in touch with old and new friends. By taking a few precautions, you can still share those margarita vacation photos — and find your house and belongings just as you left them when you return.
Facebook has made a number of privacy changes in recent years, and your settings may no longer be keeping you safe. From the top menu bar, click the lock icon to review who can see your posts. Be sure you are ONLY sharing with your “Friend” list — and are not posting anything that can be seen by “Public” (i.e., the entire world).
Even if you block your profile from the whole world, friends can still tag you in posts or photos — exposing you to potential security risks. Manage how others tag you in posts by checking your tag settings. Click the lock icon in the menu bar, then click “See More Settings.” Next, click “Timeline and Tagging” to choose who can post on your timeline and decide who can see posts and photos that you are tagged in by others. You can choose from a pre-set list (see instructions for creating one below), or simply limit a few people — that way a potential burglar won’t see that your friend just tagged you on the beach in Jamaica.
If you’re like me, you likely have high school classmates, casual acquaintances and former colleagues who you have not spoken to in years taking up space on your friend list. While Facebook is great for making big announcements, remember that everything you say is a potential privacy invasion. Advertising your travel details or expensive purchases to 400 of your “nearest and dearest” is neither smart nor safe.
Click on your Facebook name, then click “Friends” to see all of your connections. Hover your mouse over the word “Friends” beside each person’s name. A drop-down box will appear, providing the option to add that person to your list of closest friends
You can also create separate lists for professional colleagues, friends on your weekend softball team, or any group with which you’d like to share limited information.
Now, when you post a photo or status update, you can quickly choose the appropriate list and limit with whom you share information.
Whether you’re checking in on Foursquare or tweeting photos from the beach, once you put it out in cyberspace, you lose control. Checking in can be fun, but doing so is also a public declaration of your whereabouts. Use common sense, and be sure your check-ins are only shared with a select group of friends, rather than publicly displayed. Emailing a photo, sending a text message and picking up the phone are safer, more personal and more meaningful ways to communicate. Remember, there’s no such thing as “total social media privacy.”
But keep in mind, even people who use security settings on their accounts may be at risk of having their personal information shared with unintended audiences, says the FBI.