The Double-Edged Sword of Social Media

It’s a given that social media can play a critical role in developing any business’ visibility, but using it without understanding the inherent risks or observing the boundaries between business and personal can be very dangerous.

The Associated Press reported that a young California man recently mined FB accounts for information he then used to hack into personal email accounts.  He specifically targeted accounts that shared an email address.   Of those, he gleaned information commonly used in account security questions – a mother’s maiden name, favorite color, etc – from Facebook posts.  Armed with this information, he was able to take control of the email account and scan for private information he then shared with everyone in the account’s address book – family, friends, co-workers, clients, etc.  Needless to say, he was able to inflict significant damage to his victim’s reputations, not to mention personal and business relationships.

On January 17, Huffington Post reported that Facebook shared home addresses and phone numbers with developers of third-party FB apps.  The concern about this latest identity theft threat did not fail on entirely deaf ears.  The next day, HP reported Facebook temporarily suspended the policy to allow time to rework the mechanism that would allow Facebook users to disable the feature.

Given that CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s has made it clear Facebook’s mission is to “make the world more open and connected”, we can assume the issue of safeguarding privacy will continue.

When there is no clear distinction between business and personal presence and no limitations on the type of information shared,  social media use can backfire horribly.  A security risk in private social media use can leach into the business arena.  Private information shared within business social media can impact your business’ image and reputation.

These most basic steps can help reduce the risk of identity theft, privacy invasion and reputation destruction :

  • use business contact information exclusively within business social media accounts.
  • only post business-related information within business social media accounts.
  • consider creating a catch-all business email account specifically for business social media accounts
  • do not make email addresses on any social media account – business or personal – publicly visible.
  • refrain from ever using business email accounts for personal communication
  • consider using a phone call or in person conversation rather than email to share sensitive information of any kind
  • educate employees to connect their personal social media accounts – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blog feeds, etc – with business social media accounts only if they observe security measures in the personal accounts (email address is not shared online, home address and phone number are not provided unless mandatory in account creation and even then, not shared online)

While social media allows businesses to connect effectively with existing and potential customers, there are inherent risks involved when it is not used correctly or responsibly. The pink cloud frenzy of having unlimited access cannot stand up to the harsh reality that information posted online is forever and it has consequences.

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