With Hollywood now releasing films about social networking sites, albeit with lashings of erroneous sex thrown in, we thought it would be a good time to look at the benefits and pitfalls of social networking.
When former Sun Microsystems chief Scott McNealy declared that privacy was dead there was a hissy fit among the technical community, but they didn't guess the half of it. Not only is privacy dead, but most people online are happy to give it up it seems.
Social networking can be a great boon. It can entice customers, reconnect old friends and help with a myriad of problems. It can also destroy reputations, trash relationships and lead to heartbreak. Tread wisely.
Honourable mention: Keep aware of privacy tools
Iain Thomson: This list is going to cover a lot of ways in which privacy is important in social networking, but you won't be able to access any of these services if you don't know about them.
As a responsible news site, V3.co.uk covers a lot of privacy tools in social networking sites but ask yourself this: have you actually read the terms and conditions of the sites you are using? Far too many people don't (and I'd include myself in this) and they make very disturbing reading.
Social networking sites can be very poor on privacy controls. After all, if the entire raison d'être of using the site is the sharing of information then wither privacy?
The situation is getting a lot better, thanks to public anger, but in the end it's up to the user to decide their own privacy settings, either by using embedded tools or by simply restricting what they share. If the site gives you tools to do this then use them, otherwise you have no right to complain.
Shaun Nichols: Facebook has been hard at work lately adding new security features and the result is a lot of new stuff that can be confusing at times.
It is well worth spending a few minutes just checking out the latest privacy settings and options to make sure that your information is protected.
Social networking is still very much an evolving field and, if you want to keep safe, you have to make sure you're keeping pace with that evolution.
5. Know who your friends are
Shaun Nichols: This one is obvious and subtle. On one hand you don't want to be exposing your information, and that of your friends, to whatever weirdo just so happens to send out a friend request, but there's also the matter of connections that are not obvious which may prove embarrassing.
Strangers are one thing, but what about co-workers or superiors at the company who may not approve of things like party photos or status updates grumbling or gossiping about work? If you're the sort of person who likes to post these things, you want to make sure certain people aren't viewing your news feed.
Another potential source of trouble could be jealous former partners. Obviously information on how you're moving on and who you're seeing may not be information you want a jealous ex to have.
Iain Thomson: I'm consistently amazed by the number of people who have contacts on social networking with complete strangers.
If you've been on social networking sites you've probably come across this. Someone you've never heard of asks to be your friend, usually with an attractive picture attached. If you accept them you get a torrent of updates on games, other applications and advertising spam.
Far be it from me to suggest any kind of collusion between certain companies and less than scrupulous marketing agencies in all this, but it's annoying and needs to be stopped by user action.
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