Probably the most critical advice I can give about user profiles is to keep them private. Unless you’re a public figure using social networking as a public face for your admiring fans, you need to limit access to your personal information to those people you have specifically “friended” or connected with (and of course, those online friends should be people you already know). It’s also important to remember that even if your profile is set to be private, you should avoid providing sensitive identifying information (such as your social security number, date of birth, or cell phone number).
For teens, limiting personal information protects them from unwanted overtures from predators or other undesirable contacts.
Keeping personal information private is especially crucial for teens. Personal references scattered around a teenager’s MySpace page could help a predator lure the youngster into a face-to-face meeting.5
Hackers have learned to harvest information from public online profiles and use that information to their advantage.
George Bronk, a California man, was sentenced to four years in a state prison for crimes relating to Facebook stalking and email hacking. He found women on Facebook and then used the information on their profiles to hack into their email accounts. Many of these women said they had strong passwords, but Bronk broke into their accounts by going through the email security questions. He was able to find the information needed for these questions (information like your elementary school or your first pet) on their Facebook pages.6
If you have teenagers, check out their online profiles. What image does their photo project to a potential visitor? What about the profiles of their friends? You can learn a great deal about your children’s friends by checking their Facebook profiles.