Thursday, October 02, 2008

List of 12 "don'ts" published on AOL; Ziggs lets users track searches against their name

AOL today provided a story with “12 things you should never do online”. The link is here (look to the bottom of the page for the orange banner link). Most of the items – in fact all of them – should be familiar by now. They do include not conducting personal transactions at public Wi-Fi hotspots, not using the same password on more than one account (at least more than one important account). They also include not posting personal or sensitive information even on supposedly “private” social networking sites.

It’s important to distinguish between being known publicly for having authored or published something (on the web, in print, in video, or any or all of these), and actually sharing personal information (like social security numbers, home address, etc). One can be a celebrity without sharing personal information. Generally, celebrities, for example, don’t make any personal contact information available at all to the public on the Internet. You have to contact them through agents.

There are some measures that webmasters can take to protect personal privacy, including private registration of domain names (which means that the domain name company secures a way for legitimate parties to contact you). Many people, including webmasters with fewer financial resources to have agents like celebrities have, publish their cell phone numbers online, along with PO Box or UPS land mail addresses only. One potential problem is “reverse phone number look ups” available from companies like Intellius and others that sell personal information reports, which could theoretically be used for stalking or other illegal reasons. Generally, this has not been a big problem in the United States. It might be bigger overseas. Congressman Moran told me that such companies operate “barely within the realm of what is legally permissible” and admitted that maybe they should be more regulated. Further complicating the discussion is the observation that a lot of identity theft results from carelessness and lack of due diligence from lenders -- which could be fixed.

Of course, many people post personal contact information like cell phone or home phone or even address for what they view as innocuous purposes, such as on job sites to be contacted for potential employment. Again, there is a lot of work to be done to make all of this a lot safer.

Ziggs offers its members a service to let members know anytime anyone has searched for their profile online. AOL today broadcast a headline that called this “creepy” while providing a link to the same story; but I don’t see the harm in that. Ziggs is a site for “professional social networking” and has been somewhat active in the "online reputation" debate.

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