Your Online Privacy – the whole world is watching

Just how much about your life are you divulging on Facebook, Twitter or MySpace or other social media Web sites every day?

Well, here’s some sobering news: what you say on Facebook or any of the other sites could some day come back to haunt you in a legal proceeding from a divorce case to an accident investigation to a workplace injury settlement.

How so?

Well, it seems that attorneys across the nation are finding that people’s Facebook profiles often offer up lots of fascinating information about their personal lives.

Image credit: ©

“Forgot to de-friend your wife on Facebook while posting vacation shots of your mistress? Her divorce lawyer will be thrilled,” according to an Associated Press story posted online this week about how divorce lawyers are using personal tidbits found online as part of their cases against estranged spouses. “Oversharing on social networks has led to an overabundance of evidence in divorce cases,” the story continued.  “The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers says 81% of its members have used or faced evidence plucked from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking sites, including YouTube and LinkedIn, over the last five years.”

You have been warned.

But it’s not just divorce cases.

This can happen in all kinds of legal cases.

Let’s say you have a workplace injury and then are home recovering and getting medical treatment. Well, you’d better not be posting photos of your Italy vacation or your visit to a big local amusement park.

Somebody, we can assure you, is watching.

Privacy online is a continuously evolving issue nowadays.

And if you’re not thinking about it as a serious concern yet, it’s about time that you start thinking about how your online presence can affect your life in ways you never imagined.

It’s not just potential impacts involving legal cases.

It also involves potential employers if you are seeking a new job. You can bet they are out there online “Googling” your name and seeing what they come up with about you. Are you a risky hire? Are there embarrassing or negative things that will torpedo your job chances? It’s all out there for others to see.

There are, however, steps you can take to better protect your online privacy.

The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation offers its top 12 tips to protect your online privacy, which includes:

*Do not reveal personal information inadvertently. Be careful what you post.

*Don’t reveal personal details to strangers or just-met “friends”.  That means leaving out such things as the year of your birth because it can more readily identify you and help identity thieves.

*Remember that YOU decide what information about yourself to reveal, when, why, and to whom.

What’s important to remember is that you ultimately are responsible for the personal information that you place up on social networking Web sites like Facebook.

Be sure that you carefully go through every step of the privacy settings so that you can better protect yourself from divulging information and details that you want to remain private.

Often the default privacy settings on such sites are not very private.  That means that you need to go step-by-step to confirm that they are protecting you and your reputation so that things don’t come back to haunt you.

More and more today, legal cases are involving evidence and discovery garnered from social media Web sites such as Facebook, according to a story last month in The Washington Post. In a case involving two brothers who were badly burned while making repairs in a Wal-Mart store, the defense perused through almost three years of Facebook and MySpace posts to bolster its arguments, the story reported. “David Hersh, the attorney who represented the [men], said such subpoenas have become standard practice in litigation and are ‘meant to discover information that would be embarrassing or might be used adversely even if it has nothing to do with the claim,'” the story said.

“Eben Moglen, a Columbia University law professor and director of Software Freedom Law Center, calls Facebook ‘one big database of hundreds of millions of people containing the kind of information far beyond what the secret police in 20th-century totalitarian regimes had,'” according to the Post.

What this all means is you have to be careful about what you post and what you allow others to post about you.

Your reputation is important to you and you can be hurt faster than you can say  “I’m not worried.”

Find out all you can about protecting your privacy online by reading up on the subject online at Web sites including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Democracy & Technology.

This is not child’s play.

This is serious stuff and can and will affect you when you least expect it.

Protect yourself now, before it’s too late.

Better to act now than have a future legal case or job offer or other important life event go corkscrewing into the ground in a crash of epic proportions if your personal information is ever used against you.

Life does come at you fast, and it can be even faster and potentially more damaging online.

Don’t be a victim.

If you need legal advice after something like this has already happened to you, be sure to talk with your attorney.

Have fun online, but don’t forget to be careful.

You’re the only one truly watching out for you.

Remember that each time you post something.