As we are nearing Data Privacy Day, I was keenly amused by and surprised to see the results of a recent Privacy related survey conducted by McCann Truth Central. According to the survey, in which 6,525 people in the USA and five other global regions participated, many perceive social sites like Facebook (54%) and Twitter (41%) a threat to their privacy. By contrast, a majority (nearly 71%) are okay with sharing shopping data with brands online, primarily because they find it useful when companies subsequently suggest things they actually want.
As someone who enjoys online shopping, I am okay with vendors suggesting and pointing me to items I might like to purchase based on my purchase history. It’s convenient and prevents me from having to manually search for the same which can be time-consuming.
However, both when shopping and using social network sites such as Facebook, I would NOT want any of the sites to expose my personally identifiable information (PII) such as name, financial information, home address, phone numbers, and email addresses. I trust the brands I buy from and expect them to safeguard my data at all times.
Shopping vs. Social Networking – To Do or Not to Do
It’s odd that the survey responders regarded their information as somehow being less threatened by shopping sites versus social networking sites, considering that shopping sites require users to provide sensitive financial information (e.g., credit/debit/bank card data) in order to complete transactions, while social networking sites generally don’t (with the exception being a service requiring users to pay for usage such as gaming or others).
According to the survey, this could be attributed to the fact that most people consider the primary users of social networking sites to be those who want to share personal information with others online, with privacy as a secondary consideration. Yet, for every Facebook user, there are many others who are “on the fence” about whether to join and how much information to share.
For instance, I don’t share photos on Facebook and Google Plus with anyone outside of my immediate connections because I don’t feel comfortable doing so. I also contribute very infrequently on my page and have even considered removing my account. While it may be convenient to tell hundreds of people via social networking about the latest event in your life, it could be at the cost of your privacy, were the same information and/or photos to be “exposed” to people you didn’t want to share with.
Privacy and convenience – ideally we want both, but this may not be reality.
My two cents?
First, don’t be naïve. If you are sharing any personal information online, that site will probably store the data in a data center somewhere and it may be compromised should particular security controls not be used or be compromised at some point. Hence, do your part by protecting the systems and devices from which you are accessing the Internet by using security controls (e.g., firewall, antivirus software, parental controls) and exercising sound judgment about what you share online.
Second, particularly when shopping or banking, only use sites deemed to be secured and that implement, at a minimum, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption.
Enjoy your social media networking and the convenience of online shopping, but also take the time to stay as safe as you can online! It’s worth it.