Tuesday, February 07, 2006

How to manage a profile page

After seeing what Channel One did on MySpace concerning Seth Doane's experimental search on a member of that site and their eventual interview, I can say that my suspicions have been confirmed. As a result, I've thought up a bit about how the privacy of members could be bettered on such sites. Some of these measures aren't in place, but some are. Without further ado, I present a guide to keeping secure whilst showing yourself on the Internet.
  1. Use a site with a secure friend network. By default, profiles on MySpace and Xanga are wide open to people that are not included in their list or network of friends. This means that the holder of the profile is susceptible to approach from people with the intention of abusing them. To prevent this, you should restrict viewing of your profile to people on your friend list. Hi5 has this restriction set for all profiles.
  2. Dress conservatively and speak plainly. The most common mistake made by people with profile pages is setting up their profile page to exhibit flirtatiousness in the case of a female or brawn in the case of a male. The attitude harboured by the holder is evident in both the CSS of the page and the text pattern of the personal information. For example, a girl that formats her page in vibrant pink and writes in her blog in text such as 'omgz i like boyz' gives the viewer the impression that the girl is single and looking for any type of male mate irrespective of the nature or age of that mate. On the other hand, if the person refrains from using artsy text and restricts his or her CSS colour choices to soft, cohesive tones, there's less liability of that person falling prey to a predator simply because he or she seems smart.
  3. Do not use cartoons or imported images for use in your photo gallery. Not only is this against the terms of service for many social network sites, but it also brings the impression upon you that you may be a predator yourself. Posting a bona fide photo of yourself helps — but does not directly — certify that you are not a predator.
  4. Be wary of deviation or inconsistency in conversational style. Although news stories and journals suggest otherwise, it is very difficult for a predator to maintain the guise of the person that they want you to imagine them to be. Track all of their information carefully and be suspicious if their references elsewhere or in later dialogue contrast with what they told you before. For example, a person that claims to live in Liverpool, England in a conversation with you but is said elsewhere to be in a town near you may be a predator.
  5. Whenever possible, conduct a video conversation. A good way to verify the identity of a chat partner is to view them on webcam. Be sure that all participants in a video conversation have started their webcams, however.
  6. Choose your friends wisely. Anyone in your friend network that repeatedly harasses you to the extent of trying to pry open the door to more personal information than you've seen fit to reveal should be removed immediately. Similarly, anyone that tries to recruit you for illegal acts such as child pornography, cult formation, or the conveying of selective hatred should be removed from the list and, if possible, reported to authorities.
  7. Follow all directions from the terms of service. COPPA regulations state that sites with servers based in the United States — under which Hi5, Xanga, LiveJournal, and MySpace fall — are not permitted to collect personal information from children under 13 in any circumstance without notarised authorisation from the child's parent or guardian. In many cases the terms may prohibit the disclosure of school districts, street addresses, post box numbers, or telephone numbers in the profile. The profile is subject to closure if any required information is incorrect to the knowledge of the holder. All of this is in place to protect the privacy of the profile holder and/or comply with regional laws. The terms of service for social networking sites tend to vary, so you should review the site's policy before you begin creating your profile.
  8. Take personal and technical precautions whilst using a chat room. Because many chatrooms can host many users at a time, a chat room is the worst place in which to reveal any personal information unless you are using a private messaging function (which is provided by all mIRC-supported chatrooms). Be sure that the chat room is moderated regularly so that people won't have the audacity to pry you open for information. In addition to personal hazards, some users may use the chat room (if it is mIRC-compatible) to unleash bots that may carry viruses or prove to be Trojan horses, so be sure to have your antivirus programme activated whilst using a chat room.
Of course, it still may be possible for people to gain access to your information even with these precautions. If someone receives any bit of information you give, they can use that information to conduct searches through regional logs, which are required by federal law to be open to all people. If you give them enough information and maintain nonchalance in the form of your profile, expect someone scary to stop you. You should only give out delicate information such as your telephone number or address to people whose identity you have successfully verified and deem to be of an appropriate nature.

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