Healthy Family | Home Safety | Health and Wealth | Relationship Issues | Career Advice | Growing Family
Get the SixWise e-Newsletter FREE!
Google Web
Free Newsletter Subscription
Get the Web's Most trusted & Informative Health, Wealth, Safety & More Newsletter -- FREE!


Share Email to a Friend Print This

The Dark Side of Social Online Sites Like MySpace to Beware Of: Threats to Privacy & Self

Online social-networking Web sites like Facebook, MySpace and Xanga have become an incredibly popular way to make friends, express opinions and network. Acting much like virtual clubhouses, the sites allow people to create personal pages where they can write blogs, post photos, plan social outings and chat with other users.

myspace has over 100 million members, 12 percent of whom are under the age of 18.

The biggest and most popular of the sites is MySpace, which boasts over 100 million members and is the preferred site for 85 percent of online teens, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

However, the very freedom that has made the sites so popular is also threatening the safety of the users, many of whom are children (about 12 percent of MySpace users are under 18, according to according to market research firm comScore Media Metrix).

Privacy Concerns Threaten Users' Safety and Reputations

The obvious threat with social online sites is from pedophiles and other online predators who target kids. In a survey of 170,000 school-age children by nonprofit iSAFE Inc.:

  • 50 percent of high school students had talked to strangers via chat rooms or instant messaging

  • 20 percent of high school and middle school students had met (in-person) people they had first met online

In a separate study of 1,500 teens, researchers from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire found that some teens are engaging in risky behavior on these sites:

  • 5 percent of teens posted photos of themselves in swimsuits or underwear (and 15 percent posted pictures of similarly dressed friends)

  • 9 percent of youths posted their full names

  • Four out of five teens listed their home city

  • 28 percent of teens named their school

Online criminals could easily use the above information (even something as seemingly innocent as a photo of teens wearing their school sweatshirts) to track down and abduct a child.

Employers, Colleges and Teachers Looking at Profiles

At the other end of the spectrum, adults including teachers, parents, university admission counselors, police and potential employers are now searching "personal" online pages to find out more about job candidates, college students or their own children.

"Everyone at this point -- even if it hasn't happened to them -- has heard about someone who's gotten in trouble at school, with a parent, a coach, because of something that's been posted online," says Susannah Stern, an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of San Diego.

"They're [online youth] now more conscious that information they post online can be used in ways they didn't intend it to be," she says. "And I think this awareness is healthy -- for adults or kids."

The personal pages posted online are actually completely in public domain, allowing school administrators, for instance, access to students' photos of parties and underage drinking. Employers may check a candidate's personal page to get a better idea of his or her character, and already jobs have been lost and students have been expelled for things contained on the sites.

adult online identity theft social networking sites

Adults may put themselves at risk of identity theft by revealing too much personal information on social-networking sites.

Adults at Risk of Identity Theft

Youths are not the only ones at risk on social-networking sites. Many adults (and teens) on the Net are putting themselves at risk of identity theft by giving out too much information, according to a study by the U.S. National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and enterprise software firm CA. According to the survey of over 2,000 adults:

  • 74 percent had given out personal information online, such as their e-mail address, name and birthday

  • 83 percent of adults who use social-networking sites have downloaded unknown files from other people's profiles

  • 31 percent of the adults have responded to unsolicited e-mail or instant messages

"Those who frequent these sites should be aware the data they share may make them prey for online attacks. Giving out a social security number, paired with a birthday and name, could provide enough ammunition for criminals to hack into financial records and compromise users' personal information," said Ron Texeria, executive director of NCSA.

How to Protect Your, or Your Child's, Online Privacy

Sites like MySpace are taking precautions to protect users, such as automatically setting profiles for users under 16 as private (so only those with an invitation can view the page), making plans to screen member profiles for known sex offenders and enacting a minimum membership age of 14.

Still, the safety rules can be hard to enforce, and there is still a lot of risk to youths and adults alike. To protect youths online, parents are encouraged to take the following steps:

  • Talk to your kids about the risks of online predators

  • Monitor your child's online social pages

  • Tell your child never to post personal information (or photos that include it) such as full name, birthday, city, school name, address, etc.

  • Make sure your child's pages have privacy options enabled, so only invited visitors can view the page

  • Tell your child never to meet or talk on the phone with a stranger they meet online

Adults can protect themselves by also being careful about posting personal information or talking to strangers.

"Picture social networking sites as billboards in cyberspace. Police, college admissions personnel, employers, stalkers, con artists, nosy neighbors -- anyone can see what you post. Criminals scan social networking sites to find potential victims for all sorts of scams, from phony lotteries to bogus employment and business opportunities to investment fraud," warns the NCSA. "Be cautious about meeting your new cyber friends in person. After all, it's hard to judge people by photos or information they post about themselves."

On a positive note, surveys suggest that teens are, in fact, growing wiser to online risks.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 60 percent of teens with online profiles only allow friends to access their personal information, and the Florida/Wisconsin University study found that almost 40 percent of teen profiles randomly sampled from MySpace were set as "private" and therefore could not be viewed.

"This suggests that young people are cognizant of the risks to their privacy," said Pew researcher Amanda Lenhart.

Recommended Reading

Internet Safety for Kids: Seven Signs Your Child May be at Risk

Child Identity Theft: How to Secure Your Kids Against the #1 Fastest-Growing Identity Theft


The Star-Ledger January 8, 2007

USA Today December 30, 2006

The Register

To get more information about this and other highly important topics, sign up for your free subscription to our weekly "Be Safe, Live Long & Prosper" e-newsletter.

With every issue of the free newsletter, you’ll get access to the insights, products, services, and more that can truly improve your well-being, peace of mind, and therefore your life!

Share Email to a Friend Print This