Newswise — TORONTO, August 10, 2011 --- Coming across an unflattering photo of yourself on a friend's Facebook or Flickr account during orientation week can be embarrassing for any student. Professor Greg Elmer, a cyber privacy expert and director of Ryerson University's Infoscape Research Lab/Centre for the Study of Social Media, offers helpful tips on how students can protect their online privacy --- and keep those unsavoury pics from going viral.
1. Begin with the assumption that nothing is private on the web. Regardless of privacy safeguards, it is nearly impossible to control your personal information on the web. Once it's out there, it's out there for good.
2. Always completely log out of public computers, especially those in libraries and other high- frequency areas like university computer labs. You don't want the next user to come along and read through you email inbox. Don't save any passwords on public computers either.
3. Read the privacy terms on websites. While this may seem obvious, studies show that very few users actually take the time to read the privacy policies of sites that they use on a routine basis.
4. Check your privacy preferences and choose the settings that reflect your needs and comfort level. Begin with the highest level of privacy and adjust accordingly. Re-check privacy preferences and settings - they often change with little or no notice.
5. Don't click on any links that come from individuals you do not know via email, Twitter or any other website. This is the easiest way for hackers to surreptitiously store information on your hard drive.
6. Routinely search Google, Facebook and other sites to ensure that there are no unflattering pictures or blog posts of you on the Internet. You may have no control over someone else posting a picture of you late at night, but you can track these pictures and establish some privacy settings to ensure that they are not spread across the web.
7. This is a no-brainer: don't share your passwords with anyone! Don't forget to periodically change your passwords.
8. This may strike some as anti-social, but only accept "friends" on social-networking sites that you know or have recently met. Having a huge number of friends may seem cool and flattering, but constant spam emails, or worse, may ensue if you accept friends indiscriminately.
9. If you want to discuss something that is personally sensitive, for example your health, intimate friendships and relationships, pick up the phone and call a close friend or family member. Never post information on the web that you wouldn't want others to see or read. Get in the habit of only using the phone or face-to-face interactions for conversations of an intimate nature.
10. Consider using two email accounts: one exclusively for work or university-related matters, and another strictly for personal communications.
11. Routinely purge your PC cache of "cookies", search terms, and browser-history files. Such logs tell a lot about a person - you may not even want your best friend to necessarily know your online browsing habits. Search Google for directions on how to perform such purges - they are often very simple and quick to complete.
Expert available for interviews:Greg ElmerDirector, Infoscape Research Lab Centre for the Study of Social MediaBell Globemedia Research Chair