Social media and travel: How to protect your privacy

When you post details of your day-to-date life on social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook, you run the risk of exposing too much information. For instance, sharing your travel plans could provide a thief with the ideal timing to break into your home and clean you out.

By default, Twitter posts are viewable and searchable by anyone. Using your real name or providing enough private details could make it easy for anyone to figure out where you live. If you don’t want to protect your tweets by making them private, you should not use Twitter to share your vacation exploits.

Here are some tips to help you stay safe in virtual space – and the real world one:

Twitter. The safest thing you can do is protect your updates and only accept followers that you know. This sort of defeats the potential of Twitter since none of your witty wordplay will be seen except by a select few and you’ll never get a gajillion followers. If this is important to you, just open two Twitter accounts – one for friends and the other for your public persona. Then just make sure that you only post the private stuff to your trusted friends.

Facebook. On the whole, Facebook tends to be a safer place to share your travel plans since most people only accept friend requests from trusted friends. But there are some ways you can fine-tune your privacy. Click on Settings in the top blue bar and select Privacy Settings. From there, you can choose who can see your profile and personal information, tagged photos, etc. If you or someone you know is going to be posting and tagging photos of your family to Facebook while you’re out of town at obvious tourist locations, you might want to limit these to just your friends. Be sure to go to Contact Information and set your current address to No one. Your friends will know where you live or can call you if they need this information. There’s a nifty feature that lets you preview how a specific friend sees your profile, which will give you a good idea whether you’ve done a good job locking down your private details.

Blogs. If you have a blog, you should use private domain registration so if someone looks up your domain contacts, they don’t get your home address and phone number. As a quick fix, you might be able to update your contact information to your ISP’s, so that any lookups and inquiries go to them. Private registration may cost a little more, though some places do offer it for free.

If your blog is only updated sporadically (once a week or less), taking a week off shouldn’t be any big deal. But if you have a following and readers have come to expect daily updates, you’ll probably want to mention that you’re taking a break and that updates will be a little less frequent while you “enjoy some personal time” (saying it this way doesn’t signal that you’re leaving town). You don’t have to be specific about your plans unless you feel comfortable doing so. You might also preload some posts and, if your blogging software supports it, schedule them to go live on the days you are away. In my case, I alerted readers that some regular features might be incomplete or delayed and then preloaded several posts that I then published remotely each day using the Movable Type for iPhone interface.

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