Sleigh bells ring…and people get lax about computer privacy. Your comfort and joy might be headed south if you don’t think about what you unwittingly reveal during the holidays:
Is Your Seatmate Stealing Business Secrets?
As you travel for the holidays, you’re probably focused on flight delays, the unfinished work you left behind, or how to avoid certain relatives. You may be thrilled about the chance to see old friends, get a change of climate, and stop thinking about the work you left behind. You probably aren’t thinking about your seatmate stealing business ideas or information by peeking at your screen. Unless you make an effort to protect that information when you nod off, your on-screen information could be fair game to that nosey passenger sitting next to you or across the aisle.
Have You Opened Your Door to Thieves As You Travel?
Are you so excited about your holiday get-away that you’ve posted a countdown to your ski trip on Facebook? Are you using foursquare to let people know about the new restaurant that opened in your parents’ town? Adding photos of you at the Florida beaches in real time from your smartphone? You might as well put up a neon sign on your apartment door that tells thieves to break in. In New Hampshire, a burglary ring hit more than fifty homes when people posted status updates on Facebook indicating that they weren’t home.
Are You Disclosing Location Information—On Purpose or Inadvertently?
When a woman advertised a diamond ring for sale on Craigslist, the people responding to the ad robbed and beat her and her son and shot her husband. She had actually posted her address in the ad, but sometimes people unwittingly reveal their location and information about their possessions. Photos taken with most smartphones, for example, have embedded in them a string of digital data known as a geotag. When you post a photo of your new engagement ring or your holiday loot, the geotag reveals the physical location where the photo was taken. Free software programs can readily decode the information and provide a Google map of the location, leading security analysts to warn about a new problem, “cybercasing,” where anything from a theft to the kidnapping of a child can be planned based on data you unwittingly reveal.
Will Your Celebratory Photos Come Back to Haunt You?
British spymaster Sir John Sawers became a not-so-secret agent when his wife, Shelley, posted photos on Facebook which showed him in a Speedo, identified relatives, and indicated where they lived. As the incoming head of the MI6 agency, Sawers’s personal information was highly guarded by the government. But a routine Facebook action—posting photos of him on vacation and photos of his family at holiday gatherings—put him and his family at risk and led some British politicians to call for his resignation. Ultimately, Prime Minister Gordon Brown allowed the appointment to go through.
But you might not be as lucky. Over a third of employers, according to a CareerBuilder study, say that they will not hire someone whose Facebook page includes photos of that person drinking or in provocative dress. When a 24-year-old high school teacher, Ashley Payne, vacationed in Ireland, she posted a Facebook photo showing her drinking a glass of Guinness at the brewery. Even though she’d set her Facebook settings to private, the school principal forced her to resign due to the “inappropriate” photo.
So, as you light the Yule log or Menorah candle, don’t spread too much online holiday cheer. Think twice before you post those photos and statuses. That man in the red suit might be saying “Ho, Ho, Ho,” but you aren’t going to think it’s so funny if you get robbed or fired for that holiday privacy gaffe.
Lori is a law professor and the author of I KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND I SAW WHAT YOU DID: SOCIAL NETWORKS AND THE DEATH OF PRIVACY.
Sign up for Lori's newsletter.