Social media expert cautions users to think before they leap

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Jumping into the world of social media is easy but increasingly loaded with security hazards, too, according to a Bentley University expert in the field.

Mark Frydenberg teaches and conducts research on technology trends and computer information systems at the nationally ranked, Waltham, Mass., school.

He also directs Bentley's CIS Learning and Technology Sandbox, and consults with other educational institutions, specializing in new approaches to teaching technology.

To demonstrate the importance of taking precautions with personal data, Frydenberg challenges undergraduates in his Information Technology 101 course to see how quickly they can accumulate information through social media pages and other online sources.

"My students are often amazed at how easy it can be to find information about them or their families online -- if you know where to look," he says.

"Given a student's first and last name and the city where he lives, within a few minutes, we found his parent's address using online white pages, a street view of his house using Google Maps, its value using Zillow, and his mother's maiden name by looking on Facebook."

Here is his advice, intended for novice users of social media - though more seasoned users may pick up a tip or two as well, about how to avoid disclosing too much information and sacrificing privacy.

Search for yourself. See what people can find out about you by searching your name on Google and other search engines, Facebook and other online social networks, Pipl and other "people finder" sites.

Set up Google alerts to receive emails when Google finds a news story, blog post, or website mentioning your name.

Configure privacy settings on Facebook, Google+, and other online social networks to control the profile information you wish to disclose. You can often elect who gets to see various parts of your profile.

Place friends in groups so you can set visibility on posts.

Consider when it is appropriate to share your location. Online social networks can estimate your location based on your IP address or from GPS on a mobile device.

Read a website's privacy policy and license agreement before signing on.

The same is true for mobile apps, which may ask for access to your contacts list, photo gallery, location, or other personal information.

You don't want your photo to show up in an online ad, or your friends to receive unwanted email because you gave an app access to your entire contact list.

Use different passwords on social networking, email, online banking, and other sites you frequent.

One more cautionary note from Frydenberg for anyone using social media, "Once you post it, you usually can't take it back."

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