Think back to grade school or middle school for a minute. Do you remember the “Kick Me!” prank? You know, the one where you tried to subtly affix a sign to the back of a friend that said “Kick Me!” and had an arrow pointing to the unsuspecting person’s rear end?
The joke seldom, if ever, worked, but it was fun nonetheless. We all had a laugh trying to “get” someone with it.
Those days are long gone now. I’m much older and that kind of juvenile behavior is less appreciated by my contemporaries.
Instead, many people prefer to place signs on their own backs. Ok, I’m speaking metaphorically when I say that but it is almost that bad.
A Wealth of Information
The internet can be a truly wonderful thing. In just a few minutes, you can find a wealth of information about most any given topic. Need to remove a stuck wheel? It’s only a few clicks away. Want to catch up on the latest political news or find a reputable mechanic in your town? The right keywords in your favorite search engine will provide what you need nearly instantly. You can even see and talk with Grandma who lives half-way around the world?
But there is a insidious and dangerous trend creeping into our lives through the internet. Giving away too much information.
Who Wants My Social Security Number?
Community sites such as FaceBook, Google+, and LinkedIn, among others, ask for quite a bit of personal information. They want to know where you went to high school, where you’ve worked, and your religious and political leanings. They want know your kids’ names, your socio-economic background, and who your friends are.
This is not new. FaceBook’s prying into our personal lives and sharing that with advertisers has made the mainstream media’s news for years now. The same is true for Google’s tendency to sift through our emails and collect our search terms so they can proffer more targeted ads and sell our “aggregated” information.
We freely give this information away so that we can better “connect” with old friends and make new acquaintances.
But I’ve become more and more aware of this over the past year.
Hey Look Everybody! I’m Not Home
I’m fortunately that my job doesn’t require me to live out of a suitcase. Sure I occasionally travel for work, but for the most part I get to stay home with my family. That’s nice. I used to travel regularly but I’ve gotten that out of my system and these days I much prefer to say home.
I do, however, attend several conferences each year. It’s a good opportunity to learn information in my given field and to catch up with friends from around the nation and world. I do enjoy that.
Often conference attendees will twitter to coordinate activities. “Anyone up for dinner at Toucan Sam’s tonight after the conference?” or “I’m singing Karaoke with Bill and Sheila at Milli Vanilli’s on 3rd Ave.” There is a lot of banter back and forth among friends and we get to keep up with the groups’ activities.
I used to do that. But these days, I tend to just read rather than post. I no longer tweet about my location or plans. I don’t use FourSquare or use the “check-in” feature on FaceBook. I’m more conscience of the information that I make available to the world.
Why? Let me ask you this. Would you answer your cellphone and tell a complete stranger that you wouldn’t be home for the next three days? No? Well how about this? Would you place a sign in your front yard that said your kids were home alone for the evening? Of course not.
That’s what you’re doing when you share information with the world using the internet.
Get Rid of the Kick Me Sign
When you provide personal information to social networking sites, you are in fact, giving away a great deal of information. It’s not hard for someone to infer quite a bit about you from the information you provide. They may want to steal your identity or come pay visit to you unexpectedly.
When you tell the world that you are half-way across the country for a conference that lasts all week, you are inviting every thief to your home. Or worse, that your wife and kids are home without you.
I love catching up with friends at conferences and I like sharing my experiences with those who care. But I love my family more, much more. So I’ve taken the “Kick Me” sign off of my own back and I no longer share private and privileged information with the world.