LinkedIn – User Beware

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Boring LinkedIn Privacy Reminder #16…

Among my things on my list of weirdness is the tendency of some to scoff at mundane social media, or complain about how invasive it is. Meanwhile, their LinkedIn presence looks like an open invitation. LinkedIn is a great service when you understand what it is used for. But you have to spend time understanding the privacy controls and how to use it safely. Otherwise, you are leaving the keys to your life on the doorstep for any idiot to stoop and pick up. And when an idiot like me tells you to be careful, you should listen. LinkedIn is a place for professionals and those are exactly the most valuable to people trying to gain access to information.

I wrote a lengthy, detailed description of how people are using LinkedIn without a clear idea of their objective – and then trashed it, because people don’t listen. Many people have a mistaken idea about what LinkedIn is used for, what it does for them, and whether it is safe in the way they use it. Even though no one reading this will really believe they aren’t careful, the reality is that I found a wide array of privacy lapses up and down the spectrum from LinkedIn users. The information is often useful enough to help serve legal papers, steal your identity, clone your account, gain access to your email, and do all manner of nonsense to your well-being. I try to remind people that privacy takes work and even then it fails miserably. It’s one thing to be unaware and unable to control your privacy, another to broadcast it yourself. You don’t really have privacy, but you should consider making people work harder to invade your life, if that sort of illusion is important to you. LinkedIn can be a valuable tool if you know what you’re using it for and how to control what it allows others to see with or without your consent.

Did you allow the company to access your private contacts when you set up your account? Almost always a bad idea, but most do it. Do you have two-factor authentication active on your account? If not, this is a direct invitation to have your life stolen from you. (If you don’t know how 2-factor authorization works, stop using most services that rely on real information about your life until you do). Did you leave active the setting that notifies you (or broadcasts to others) each time someone makes a change to their profile?

How about your privacy controls? Without being logged in, why should I be able to google your LinkedIn profile and see a very new picture of you, where you live, and your career? Yes, I’m talking to you, the person who worries a lot. Your picture is on the internet, right now, telling me where you are.

People who scrutinize and worry themselves to death about other social media such as FB blithely forget or ignore how important it is to restrict access to your life. With FB, you can easily fake it if you were so inclined. But with LinkedIn, you are bombarded with the necessity of being meticulous and detailed. In other words, please make sure that you have laid out your economic and career identity and then forget to watch your account controls.

If you are going to use LinkedIn, please treat it as a gateway to your real life, because that’s what it is, even if you’ve forgotten that the door is sometimes left wide open. User beware.

When I posted to this idea to social media, I had one person comment on the post and another send messages, concerned. The person messaging couldn’t believe that I could actually “see” all their information. I had to do screenshots of their private information and forward it to convince them. They were angry, as they were certain they had been studiously careful when setting up their account. My conclusion to them was to assume that companies can and will randomly change privacy settings and to be on guard for it happening.

P.S. It is worthwhile to have someone else “look” at your presence on important sites, attempt to logon to your services and so forth. Not only to see what is visible, but to gauge whether something has changed without you noticing.

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