“He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”
Every kid knows these lyrics. For decades parents have used the song as a ploy to get children to behave for one month out of the year by convincing them that everything they do is being seen by the big man himself.
The notion that a fat old man in a red suit watches you while you sleep is certainly frightening enough, but even scarier is the notion that anyone can effectively know if you’ve been naughty or nice just by checking your Facebook or Googling your name. This isn’t the stuff of cheesy holiday jingles – this is the cold, hard truth of the web2.0 world.
Not to mention for most people, the holidays are a time of increased social network activity. People make posts about their holiday plans, upload batch after batch of family photos, or post what kind of awesome gifts they’re buying (or receiving). And that’s great! The holidays should be a time for sharing and bonding with loved ones. But, as we like to say, make sure you practice safe sharing and think before you post.
Here are 3 easy ways to keep your family safe during the holidays.
Don’t Post Your Travel Plans Publicly
Some recent data from TripAdvisor.com found that 45% of Americans plan to travel for this year’s holiday season. This should come as no surprise. The holidays are a time to gather with family and catch up with friends after a long year. After all, it’s the season of merriment, celebration, and goodwill to all mankind, right?
Unfortunately, in the midst of all this holiday cheer, there are enterprising criminals and burglars that take advantage of all the empty homes and abundance of expensive gifts to line their own pockets. We’ve touched on this before in the dangers of geolocation, but as geolocation services (such as those already seen in Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, and the new crop of SoLoMo networks) expand, the number of related thefts can only increase.
There’s even a website called PleaseRobMe that can show you if your public posts are telling would-be robbers if you’re home or not. Our recommendation: Turn off all geolocation services for the holiday season. (Better yet – permanently.) Every social network has to ask for permission to your location, and every network also has a setting to turn geolocation off.
Beyond passive geolocation technology, you can save your family from a holiday break in by not posting your travel plans to public social networks. Yes, I know you want to tell all your friends that you’re “Going to Hawaii for Christmas this year!!” but that’s the exact sort of post burglars are looking for.
“But my Facebook is set to friends only…,” you might argue. True, but recent statistics from the Department of Justice have shown that 65% of all burglaries are committed by someone who knows the victim. That’s a whopping 2/3 of all home theft. So if you just broadcast that you’ll be gone for 5 days to your following of 500 friends…Well, how many of those people do you really know and trust?
Better to play it safe and keep your travel plans to your immediate family.
Keep Family Photos Private
Holiday family gatherings are a great opportunity to take a lot of cherished photos and create memories with loved ones. What follows is an inevitable flurry of uploads to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. But before you upload those pictures of your 3-year-old nephew to show the world how cute he is, remember: The internet never forgets.
A post that may be innocent to you might cause privacy problems for the people you tag in it, and that goes double for young children. Big data is the backbone of the social web, and the more you (or someone in your family) posts, the more highly personalized data you’re giving to 3rd party advertisers and web analysts. And while there are a myriad of laws protecting children online, relying on the law is often an ineffective way to protect yourself online. It may be tempting to share cute pictures of your youngsters with friends back home, but do you really want to be creating a digital footprint for someone before they’re even in high school?
For older family members, the rise of facial recognition technology across the web should be worrisome. Even family members that avoid social media need to be concerned about being tagged in others’ posts. Once a face gets added to the national databases, it’s there for good.
To keep things safe for your loved ones, use a private social network like Sgrouples. We recommend creating a private group for your immediate family so you can share highly personal photos and memories without worrying about who’s spying over your shoulder. You can rest easy knowing Sgrouples will never track your face, and if you decide to delete any photos or sensitive content that it is gone forever. Unlike big data companies on the web, you are always 100% in control of your content.
Beware of Coercive Ads When Holiday Shopping
We’ve written about the potential dangers of shopping online and behavioral advertising many, many times. That said, we feel this is such an important topic that it bears repeating, especially with the increase in online shopping for Christmas. Targeted ads aren’t necessarily the devil – sometimes they can be helpful for finding the perfect holiday gift idea or getting a good deal on a product you were planning to buy anyways.
The problem with behavioral advertising is how companies can use highly targeted ads to coerce you into buying things you normally wouldn’t, and spend more money than you originally planned. In fact, behavioral advertisers get paid a lot of money to convince you to spend more of your hard-earned cash.
In addition, data gathered on your shopping habits during holiday times will follow you into the new year, and attempt to get you to buy more things well beyond the end of gift-giving season. This isn’t a big deal if you exclusively shop from brands you trust, but these big brands will also sell your habits to other brands you may not be interested in. Next thing you know, you’re bombarded with ads you don’t want everywhere you go on the web. The good news is most behavioral ad networks provide you with a way to opt out. You can also use services like Do Not Track, private browsing, or HTTPS everywhere to keep advertisers from collecting data on you.
There are also big security risks with giving your credit card or bank information out to multiple shopping sites. Most are scrupulous, but as always there are going to be unethical websites that will try to get your financial information or even steal your identity.
Moral of the story: think before making a purchase, or even before attempting the bulk of your shopping online. You can also limit damage by shopping through a major retailer like Amazon, combined with the private browsing tactics mentioned above. Better safe than sorry.
We’re not trying to take all the fun out of family gatherings or shopping around the holidays. Quite the contrary, we want everyone to have the best holiday season possible – and that includes not letting burglars into your house or creating online reputation management problems for friends and family tagged in photos.
The bottom line is: Practice safe sharing and think before you post. If it’s something you wouldn’t want a total stranger knowing about you or your family, don’t put it online. Or if you do, use a private social network like Sgrouples to prevent outsiders from tracking you.