Social Networking and Your Personal Information

Most social networking sites have options for you to define your security or privacy settings.   At times, they may be changed or upgraded in a way that affects how your personal information is made available on the internet. To be sure you are aware of what information is being shared and how it is important to review security setting periodically.

Social networking sites make their money from advertisers, not users.  Advertisers use the information that you post to get their message out to as many people as possible.  The more information they can gather about you from your profile and posts, the better they can target their message to you.  This is not limited to just advertisers, though. The same is true for spammers or identity thieves.  They can use a variety of techniques such as fun surveys and apps to lure you into providing your data. What you thought was just a fun game to name a star after your kids was actually a way to gather your child’s name and birthdate—information often used in passwords or for account security questions! They can also craft targeted email messages including personal details gathered from your posts to help trick you into providing additional information.

Each application presents its unique security configurations and challenges.  To protect your information, review any privacy settings or account settings that are available with each application.  You might also want to look closely at the information that is being tracked with each application—particular from mobile devices.  Whenever possible, limit the audience of your information to individuals you know and trust.

Social Networking

The following are a few reminders for Facebook and Twitter:


Facebook encourages extensive public sharing of your activity, from what you’ve watched on Netflix, to what you’ve listened to on Spotify, to what you’ve read in The Washington Post. You no longer have to “Like” something to share it – in many cases that will happen automatically.  If you allow, many apps and web services will now have permission to post to your profile or timeline automatically. Read the sharing terms carefully before installing new apps.

  • Make your posts available to Friends-Only: In your privacy settings— select “limit the audience for past posts.”
  • Limit the posts by others on your Timeline: This limits visibility to comments posted to your wall by your friends. Go to the privacy settings page– select Edit Settings (next to How you connect)–select the drop down menu next to “who can see posts by others on your timeline” and choose Custom.  Enter the name of the people or the lists that you want to exclude from viewing posts on your wall by others.
  • Edit every post manually: although this is quite time-consuming, you may want to control which posts appear on your timeline.


The Twitter Privacy policy states, “Your public user profile information and public tweets may be searchable by search engines and are immediately delivered via SMS and APIs to a wide range of users and services, with one example being the US Library of Congress which archives Tweets for historical purposes.  When you share information or content like photos, videos, and links, you should think carefully about what you are making public.”   If the content of your tweets is not intended for the public audience, consider making that information private and monitor your followers carefully.

Another security concern with Twitter is the practice of shortened URLs.   Because of the text length limitation, individuals frequently use shortened URLs to direct you to pictures or videos. However, the shortened URL gives you no indication of what the true site is.  Hackers can create a shortened URL to direct you to an authentication page or registration form.   If you click on a shortened URL in a Tweet and are directed to any authentication or registration page, do not provide the requested information.

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George Finney

George Finney is the Chief Security Officer at Southern Methodist University. He is responsible for implementing and monitoring a diverse security infrastructure to protect the University network and data.