Use caution with social networking sites

A few days ago I got an invitation to join a new social networking site from a co-worker. (Social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Windows Live Spaces are services people can use to connect with others to share information like photos, videos, and personal messages.)


At first I thought it was strange that she was inviting me to join since we work together and already communicate several times a day using both high-tech and low-tech methods.


Even though I thought the invitation might have been a fraudulent e-mail message, I sent it back to her and told her I would join, if she was sure the invitation wasn’t a scam.


A few minutes later I received an e-mail message from my co-worker saying that she was horrified to learn that the social networking site had e-mailed an invitation to all of her contacts without her knowledge.


When you first sign up, many popular social networking sites offer to scan your e-mail address book to find out if other people you know are on that particular social network. Then you can choose whether you want to connect with others who are already on the network or send invitations to people who aren’t. These sites should ask your permission to send out invitations. My co-worker claims that this particular site did not ask her permission.


You’ve probably heard the news reports about how much time teenagers spend on social networking Web sites. However, online social networking is now used by adults as well as kids. Adults use these sites to keep in contact with friends or even to help them get new jobs. Whether you’re the parent of a child who uses a social networking site or if you use these sites yourself, here are a few basic guidelines to follow.


Social networking safety tips


Educate yourself about the site before you post any personal information. Evaluate the social networking Web site and read the privacy policy and code of conduct carefully.  To avoid giving the site the e-mail addresses of your friends, do not allow the site to scan your e-mail address book.


Assume what you write on a social networking site is permanent. Even if you have the ability to delete your account, anyone on the Internet can easily print out the information or save it to a computer.


Consider using a site that doesn’t post your information publicly. Some sites allow anyone to view the content you post on the site; others only allow members to view pages. If you want to help protect your information even further, use a site that allows you to password-protect your information and only give your friends the password.


For more information tips specifically for parents see How to help your kids use social networking sites more safely.


About the Author
Eve Blakemore

Group Manager, Trustworthy Computing

Eve Blakemore is a Group Manager for Trustworthy Computing who delivers consumer guidance around the latest trends in security and privacy. Eve joined Microsoft in 1998 and has worked in corporate and field roles with Microsoft Learning, US Public Sector, Read more »