When was the Last Time You Checked Your Privacy Settings?

Lock Icon: FacebookIf your answer was more than a year ago, you may want to log onto your social networks and take a gander at what people can really see when you publish content. Or if you’ve never checked your settings (especially on Facebook), learn how… now. But don’t feel like you are the only one dropping the ball on your own privacy, according to Consumer Reports 13 million people have never looked at their privacy settings. Wow.

Personally, I check my settings every couple of months or as often as I hear Facebook, specifically, is making changes. I always want to be sure I know what can be seen by my friends and by strangers. For me, I want strangers seeing as little as possible, and depending on how you use social media you may feel the same way.

Even though, Facebook has received much deserved criticism over its privacy settings, I think much of the accountability actually falls on the user. We choose to sign up for a social network. We are not forced. Therefore, we should be aware of where our information is going and who is seeing it. Facebook and other social networks have made it easier to learn about privacy settings, either by looking under your account settings or searching on the site for them. I’ve noticed Facebook has announced when major changes are happening. This extra help can serve as a reminder for users who aren’t as in tune with their privacy settings.

Crossing the Line

Facebook Privacy SettingsIs it ethical for reporters to use social media to contact people in sensitive news situations? I think if the reporter doesn’t identify themselves in as a professional, then “yes” it is unethical. As journalists, we should always identify ourselves as such when we are working. A reporter wouldn’t go to a person’s door and not introduce themselves, same goes for a phone interview. If they fail to do this, they really aren’t a true journalist in my opinion.

People keep their profiles “private” for a reason: they don’t want people they don’t know seeing their content. There is nothing wrong with this. Reporters should respect this. If a news situation calls for contacting someone on Facebook (or any social network) the reporter should always identify themselves in a professional manner. And they should certainly never publish information from a private profile without consent.

Now if the profile is public, then I say it’s fair game for capturing screenshots for stories. We see this done all of the time. But journalists have to be careful. If you republish something because it’s public, that doesn’t mean you don’t confirm the source or validate the content. Just because it’s public doesn’t mean the information is accurate. As for contacting someone with a public profile, I think journalists should still always identify themselves.

So, if you still need convincing on checking your Facebook privacy settings (and getting in a regular habit of doing so) this NBC News video, sums it up in 30 seconds.


We’re all Being Watched. Get Used to It.

dataminingPersonal information has been collected on all of us for years. This is nothing new. But in recent months, the gathering of personal information has come to the forefront of the news, primarily in part to the Edward Snowden/NSA revelations. Concerns are now being raised about what kind of data is being collected, how much, and what it’ being used for.

Did you know that data mining is a multibillion-dollar industry? The term “Big Brother” has been taken to a whole new level in this digital age. It’s almost entirely impossible to not have an online profile of some sort (even if you don’t directly know it exists). Google yourself. I’m sure you’ll find information you didn’t realize was online.

For me, data mining isn’t necessarily “scary”, but it’s kind of creepy. To think that our every move online can be tracked, collected, and used by companies we have no official affiliation does seem extreme. Yet, at the same time if it means more targeted advertising reaches my computer screen, is that so bad? I’d rather see ads I find valuable. Wouldn’t you?

When it comes to organizations around the globe, such as the NSA or GCHQ, which claim to use data mining to learn more about intelligence and identify terrorists, I don’t take issue with data mining. The NSA blatantly claims it’s not monitoring the everyday happenings of common Americans. Whether you believe this or not, if the data helps the government keep our citizens safe why wouldn’t I support it. I’m not doing anything wrong, therefore I should not be worried.

laptop and stethoscopeI work for a healthcare organization, so as you can imagine we face ethical situations everyday. Protecting patient medical information is one of our highest priorities. In fact, it’s the law. But beyond that, we want our patients to feel comfortable and trust that we will protect their privacy. We’ve implemented an electronic medical record (EMR) system, with security processes in place to ensure a patient’s private information is never leaked or compromised. As you can imagine this is a more secure way of collecting and tracking health information than paper records.

When it comes to social media, we have an established policy concerning privacy. Our employees are not allowed to look up a patient’s medical record if they are not treating that patient. We do not allow for smartphone photos to be taken by our employees in our facilities (where a patient’s name could be written on a board in the background, etc.). We constantly monitor our social networks to make sure no patient information is posted. If a patient posts about their own personal health information (PHI), that is fine. We just want to make sure we do not weigh in on or further share that information.

Data mining is probably always going to be a controversial topic, as we struggle to maintain our privacy. I feel that as long as it’s being used in a valuable way (to protect others), I’m okay with it.