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Could Status Updates Put You in Danger?

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 12/6/2011

It's fun to share that you're eating at a great new restaurant or post pictures while on vacation, but could your social networking habits be unsafe? Is it even worth doing?

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    Social Media and GPS

    Facebook asks: Where are you? When you post a status update on Facebook, you have the option of sharing your specific location as well as the people you were with using just a couple clicks of the mouse. Lots of social networking apps are GPS-enabled as well, posting your whereabouts for all of your followers to see. While it may be an optional feature, you might think it is fun to let your friends know you are hanging out at that cool new bar downtown with your latest crush. However, there may be downsides to revealing so much information.

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    Potential Risks

    Woman With Cell Phone Of course, if someone has a violent ex or a stalker they should avoid posting their location and pastimes at all cost. What about the average person, though? At the risk of sounding paranoid, consider that a woman sharing the fact that she is, once again, enjoying her early morning run around a certain park could be easy prey to a rapist or mugger who happens upon this update. Someone seeking a home to burglarize might appreciate knowing that the guy who just bragged about the expensive television he bought last week is heading out of town for a long weekend.

    Perhaps you think that even if you offer somewhat detailed info, people who don't actually know you would not be able to find your house or specific location. Chances are, though, that if you upload photos from your cell phone, you are providing pretty precise information. Smartphones embed all sorts of data in photos that you snap and tweet or upload. According to the online privacy awareness website, icanstalku.com, this data includes everything from the name of the photographer, to your camera settings to the location where the photo was taken.

    This means that, along with information such as your work schedule ("Ugh, I have to work until 8 again tonight!"), your leisure habits ("It's Wednesday night! That means bowling at the Downtown Bowling Alley."), the type of car you drive and other tidbits that might interest unsavory characters, you are probably handing out your home address and other locations as well.

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    Who Cares?

    Do Your Friends Like Your Check-ins? Another factor to consider is whether you are sharing more information than your friends or followers care to know. If you share details about your lunch at a fast food restaurant every day at noon, you are the "Mayor" of the convenience store around the corner because you check in their three times a day, or you clog their feeds with pics of you "With Joe and Sue at Neighborhood Dive" three nights a week, people might start hiding your updates or even unfriending you.

    Think about the people who follow you and determine whether you think they enjoy your check-ins or not. You might even want to take an impromptu poll and ask for their input. Perhaps your friends all enjoy sharing these types of updates. If so, carry on! If they seem less than receptive about your GPS updates, you might want to take it down a notch.

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    What You Can Do

    Should You Share? If you are concerned that you might be disclosing too much information in your check-ins, status updates and even your photos, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself.

    First, consider who you are sharing these details with. If your Twitter account is public and anyone can view your tweets, whether they follow you or not, you can either change your account to private or become more aware of what you tweet.

    Unless your Facebook privacy settings only allow friends to view your posts and pictures - and all of the people on your Friends list are actually your real life friends - you can disable the "Places" location tagging.

    1. Open Facebook and click on the dropdown arrow to the right of Home in the upper right corner.
    2. Choose Privacy Settings from the list.
    3. Next to How Tags Work click on Edit Settings
    4. Disable Friends Can Check You Into Places

    You might want to change some of the other settings there as well.

    Don't want to stop uploading and tweeting pics? You don't have to. Simply turn off the GPS locator on your digital camera or smartphone camera when you snap photos. You will typically find this option in your phone or camera's settings, and it will not affect your phone's other GPS capabilities.

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    What's Your Take?

    Do you think people need to be more careful and private, or are you of the opinion that worrying about filtering what you share is simply paranoia? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments section below!

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