Recent revelations about the NSA’s social media mining and analytic system have attracted much controversy. Many people don’t realize that a growing number of private companies use many of the same methods and have similar capabilities.
Such companies sell information to clients ranging from law enforcement and security companies to human resources departments and corporate intelligence firms. So it is critical to give some thought to strategies for managing your social media and other online activity. That is, if you are concerned with that activity (and your contacts) being collected, analyzed and possibly provided in reports to current or prospective employers, clients, partners and others.
Online investigative firms offer services ranging from basic social media screening, identification and verification to more extensive analysis and investigation, encompassing public records reports, deep Internet searches, social network mapping, activity monitoring, and resume vetting. On a broader scale, data from social media accounts and other online sources are also frequently scraped by automated bots, then aggregated and published by websites such as Intelius.com and USSearch.com.
Protecting your privacy
One way to protect your personal information is to stay off of social media entirely, or to limit your presence to a single trusted platform like LinkedIn. You can minimize the information that data mining companies obtain, while gaining greater control over what you do and don’t want to make available online.
Such a simple solution will work for some, but if abstaining from social media isn’t a viable option, a deliberate and cautious approach to managing your online image is necessary. Develop an appropriate strategy for managing your presence across all the platforms that you use.
Given the “new generation of programs that ‘revolutionize’ data collection and analysis” that are described by the New York Times, it’s also important to take a close look at what you may be revealing on social media in less obvious ways, such as through your network of connections, location metadata, and anything else that could be combined with public records and other available information to glean details about you. These pieces of data may seem obscure or inconsequential on their own, but with the advanced capabilities of the NSA and many private intelligence firms, you may be sharing more than you ever intended.