Online safety questioned

Strangers are increasingly able to discover people’s personal details from public websites, the Globe and Mail reported Sept. 12.

Globe staffer Matt Hartley searched profiles of strangers on Facebook and pieced together their lives using only public websites such as and MySpace.

Hartley’s investigation raises the question of how carefully people should guard their information on the Internet.

Many people who opt to allow “Only Friends” to view their information on Facebook think they have taken the necessary steps to protect themselves.

But websites, such as, that carry an inventory of people’s names with information on each person gathered from public websites have started to spring up across the web.

Though sites such as Facebook carry some responsibility for keeping users’ information out of the public domain, each individual is ultimately responsible for managing his or her own information.

The government might also find it difficult to create rigorous privacy laws surrounding Internet use such as those in China, as they could easily toe the line between being protective measures and censorship.

There are now sites that search a person’s online profile to clean it up and more and more parents are asking for this service for their university-aged children. Reports indicate many employers now perform online searches on potential employees, and drunken photos might not inspire their confidence.

Students are taught to create responsible profiles but the importance of teaching them about protecting themselves from harm online is often overlooked.

People with active online personalities face not only the danger of having potential employers see photos of them in questionable circumstances, but the very real danger of stalkers and pedophiles who, despite being an Internet minority, pose threats to safety.

It’s important to treat Internet use as one would treat any safety-related topic discussed at school. Teachers should be equipped to help their students understand the nuances of web use, especially as more elementary-aged children are going online.

It might seem obvious not to open the door to a stranger but, for many, it’s difficult to make the connection to figuratively opening the online door to the world.

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