How Important is Your Online Privacy?

Your credit card company knows everything about you: Your name, phone number, and home address. They know where you've traveled to, what you've bought, and even what your favorite stores are. The bank teller greets you by name, and he knows all about your financial status. Your mobile carrier calls you at uncomfortable times to let you know about the latest special offers. You've willingly handed out sensitive personal information to so many people, yet you freak out over who's watching your Facebook profile. What's wrong with this picture?

Ever since Social Networking Sites rose in popularity, users around the world have lost their sleep over security updates and privacy settings for fear their profiles might get hacked or hijacked by strangers with malevolent intentions. Stories of pranksters posting explicit material on Facebook pages make the news, and Internet experts take up the all-important task of explaining SNS users how to protect their valuable content. The real question, though, remains: How important is your online safety anyway?

True, online privacy is a huge deal when it comes to financial transactions and confidential information. You certainly don't want a total stranger wiping your bank accounts clean or stealing that great business idea you just forwarded to your boss via email. However, it should be pretty obvious by now that the world's meanest black hats are not after your vacation photos or your status updates.

Suppose for a moment that your Twitter account has indeed been hacked, and the unpleasant intruder is having a field day over your tweet feed. He posts all kinds of inappropriate stuff, from insults towards other users to links that lead straight to adult content sites. How devastating would that invasion really be for your online reputation? Wouldn't the people who know you realize that you're not the actual creator of these hideous tweets?

This is not to say that you shouldn't adjust your privacy settings wherever possible, but a general rule of thumb says, if you don't want something to be shared with the rest of the world, you shouldn't post it on the Internet. Most importantly, you need to put things into perspective: In the worst case scenario where your account has been hacked, all you have to do is contact the site administrator and sort things out. Alternatively, you can shut it down altogether and start enjoying the real world.