It’s been a few weeks now since Google + shook up the social world online. Love it, hate it or haven’t yet tried it, it’s clear that Facebook now has a bit more direct competition.
Privacy has been touted as one of G+’s hallmarks. Having connections sorted into circles means that all content shared on the network is likewise filtered as it is posted. When a user attempts to share content that another user has shared with a smaller group, they see a warning message that encourages them to think twice before sharing.
On the one hand, it can be easily dismissed as a trivial chiding by the network – but I can tell you it’s given me pause more than once.
The circle-sharing facet of Google + is simply a feature that Facebook doesn’t have an answer to, and I think the ability to select smaller niches with whom to share will certainly resonate with some of today’s web users that lament that lack of flexibility within Facebook.
That said, I’ve had an eye opening experience in the last few weeks presenting for a few groups of novice social media users, people who are literally newbies within Facebook. There’s a misunderstanding out there, and it goes so far beyond the networks that it bears mentioning.
The greatest threat to the privacy of your content online isn’t Facebook or Google + and the various controls or lack thereof. It’s the people you’re connected to.
Uncle Bob is a big threat to your privacy. Let me explain.
Let’s say you’re a parent with young kids. You love the ease with which you can share pictures on Facebook (feel free to sub in Google + here interchangeably), from your camera, your iPhone, etc. You have scrupulously set your privacy settings to only share photos with your friends and you’ve kept a close rein on whom you’re connecting to on Facebook. Your friends are really your friends – folks you know in real life, family members, etc.
You post a pic of your kids at the park playing on the swings with Uncle Bob. Uncle Bob likes the picture and can’t help but be proud of his nieces. Using the free screen capture function already installed on his computer (and here for Mac users), he takes a “picture” of your picture. He shares the pic on his Facebook wall too…
While you’ve been careful only to share with friends, Uncle Bob is a bit less concerned about web privacy (or a bit less savvy with the tools and simply doesn’t know better).
Uncle Bob has just made your private image into a public post on his wall. Depending on his particular settings, that image is potentially viewable to any Facebook user.
Despite the best efforts of networks, there is no such thing as protected, private content within Facebook or Google +. There isn’t a setting that can block screen captures (let alone taking a pic of a screen with an actual camera).
If you truly want to ensure that no one else is going to see it, don’t post that content on a social network. Don’t add it to a password-protected post on your blog.
And for that matter, don’t send it as an attachment in your email, where its rebroadcast is only a “Forward” away.
There are many steps we can take to minimize who sees what, but remember the privacy of anything you post is at the mercy of those with whom you choose to share it.
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