THE BLOG
10/10/2013 05:02 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

How to Start Creating Smart Online Habits

Over the past few years we've seen an increase in the sheer amount of information people share online. We've gone from simply posting status updates so friends and family can see what is going on in our lives, to "checking in" at the locations we frequent and sharing pictures with strangers. One statistic that recently stuck with me: 27 percent of the time we spend online is spent on forums and social networks. Think about it -- 16 minutes of every hour we spend online is spent sharing personal information or absorbing personal information others have shared. As president of a company that helps businesses and consumers deal with identity theft, I find this statistic alarming.

CSID had the privilege of working with three experts last month for a webinar we held on the topic of online reputation management and online sharing. Parry Aftab of WiredSafety, Jessica Miller-Merrell of Blogging4Jobs, and Neil Richards, law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, shared some interesting insight on the risks of online sharing -- risks that the average social media user may not consider.

Risk #1: Identity Theft & Misuse

As mentioned above, the information people share online can put them at increased risk for identity theft. Cyber criminals will mine information from social media sites and use it to construct a profile of a person that can then be used to target others for identity theft or other phishing schemes. Even seemingly innocuous information like a high school mascot or a favorite pet's name are common answers to security questions that reset passwords.

Information aggregation sites like Spokeo scan for and collect personal information from sources all over the Internet to create profiles, and this data is often sold to marketers for advertising purposes. However, anyone with an Internet connection can conduct a search to find and purchase personal information from these sites and gain access to an individual's date of birth, home address, names of relatives, religion and even salary.

Risk #2 Reputation & Employment

Having a good online reputation is increasingly important. For a teenager, it can mean the difference between getting into a dream college or not. For an adult, it could be the key that unlocks a new business opportunity or relationship. And the importance of a good online reputation is magnified for job seekers, as most HR departments conduct online searches on job candidates before making hiring decisions. They look for red flags like evidence of drug use, negative postings about a previous job or company or an online profile that doesn't match a resume. Additionally, in one of our conversations, Jessica Miller-Merrell noted that more and more companies are keeping tabs on what is being said about the company online via sophisticated programs that monitor social media mentions. Companies are mostly doing this for brand management - but it also means that if an employee or prospect says something negative about a company, there is a good possibility the company knows about it.

To summarize all this, the information a person shares online goes far beyond just friends and family. Others are watching, collecting, making decisions and forming opinions based off of the information we share. We all need to be cognizant of this fact and adjust the way we engage online and the types of information we post. Parry, Jessica and Neil shared some great tips on how best to manage an online reputation. I will summarize these and pass them along next week.