Monday, May 16, 2011

Social Media Presence for College and for Life

Privacy and online profile are even more important nowadays than before. Credit card purchases have become ubiquitous, but online stores are no longer the only businesses hankering after your life's story. Some businesses go through your personal data and mine information they can exploit for their benefit. Writing of a 13-year old student, Cecilia Kang says:
"The games he plays know his location at any given moment through the phone’s GPS technology. He has entered his parents’ credit card number to buy apps, and iTunes has his family’s e-mail address and everyone’s full names. Facebook knows his birth date and the school he attends." (Boston Sunday Globe, May 15, 2011.)

If you play any online games, even on your cell phone or other mobile device, chances are that at least a part of your behavior is recorded and stored. At the least, you'll leave a track. At the worst, like Kang writes, you'll hand out personal information that can be reviewed by prospective employers, insurance companies, and colleges. Who would want to be rejected as a prospective student because of a Facebook photo, or fired because of online activities? (And this is not even getting into malware and phishing attempts.) In 2008, in 500 of the nation's top colleges, 80 % of admissions officers said they use social media to evaluate applicants. Furthermore, of the schools that did check social networking sites, 38 % said that what they saw negatively affected their view of the applicants.

Try googling yourself. If you're not happy with what you find, take action. The best time to start managing your online presence is now. When you sign up with a new service, take a minute right away to check your account settings. Go check the privacy settings for services you're already using. Many services turn information sharing on by default. Change those defaults. Very few media applications actually require you to share your personal details to work. Protect your online reputation as you would protect your real-life reputation. There are many how-to guides for managing your online presence, especially for college-bound students. The basics, however, are easy: be safe, use common sense, and create a positive message.

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