A story circulated online about a woman in the United States who received an email from a friend of hers in Holland saying that she saw a picture of the woman`s family in a supermarket ad on a billboard in Holland. She included a picture in her email and the woman in the United States was shocked to see that it was indeed a picture of her family. She had not submitted the picture to any company for use in advertising nor had any company contacted her asking her permission to use the picture.After doing some research, the woman discovered that the supermarket company had taken her picture from a popular social networking site. While there are some precautions that users can take to protect their privacy, often the default settings only loosely protect privacy. It is not necessarily in the best interest of the social networking site to publicize the potential dangers and therefore not all users are aware of the necessity of adjusting the privacy preferences to best protect themselves.Having a family picture stolen to be used in a supermarket ad is a fairly innocuous situation, but it could have been much worse. People are not always careful about what types of pictures they share on social networking sites. Thinking that only friends will see the picture gives people a false sense of security when they post pictures of their latest family vacation. What people often fail to consider is that friends of friends may also be able to see the pictures (if the privacy settings are not configured properly) and those `friends of friends` may not be the kind of people you would want looking at your family pictures.It is easy enough to simply copy and paste a picture directly from a social networking site, so if a picture gets into the wrong hands, there is no limit to what could be done with it. Pictures may end up as unsolicited advertisements, such as the case in Holland, or the situation could be much worse and pictures of children could end up on child pornography sites.Aside from pictures being stolen, there is also concern about identity theft or the sharing of private or identifying information. Again, when people believe that only their friends are seeing the information, then they have no reason to believe that they should not post their address and phone number on their profile. After all, they would readily hand out this information to their friends. In this case as well, it is crucial to consider that your online friends have friends of their own who may get access to your page and to your information. Just because they are friends of your friends does not mean that they are automatically trustworthy.When it comes to social networking sites, it is best to take the attitude of `better safe than sorry`. It is not necessary to remain totally anonymous and not to share any information at all because that would defeat the purpose of a social networking site. It is, however, critical to be aware of all of the privacy settings and make sure that you have set them at the appropriate levels to keep yourself and your information safe.
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Roberto Sedycias works as IT consultant for http://www.polomercantil.com.br/