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Consider the following scenario: A teenage girl creates a Facebook profile and fills it with personal information, such as home address, birthday, telephone number, the name of her school and a list of school activities. Within weeks, this girl now has 500 “friends.” She never changed the Facebook privacy settings to block friends of friends from viewing her profile. Now, thousands of people, most of whom she does not know, can view her personal information, photos, videos and online conversations, making it easy for a stalker or sexual predator to track her movements.
For today’s teenagers and future generations, social media isn’t an exciting new tool—it’s simply how they communicate. But social media is relatively new and is fraught with risks. Teenagers, in particular, tend to share a lot of personal information online, which can expose them and their families to fraud, burglary and identity theft. They could also end up being sued for libel if they used their page on Facebook or on another social networking Web site to vent their anger at a teacher or fellow student. And embarrassing online photos or comments can keep them from landing that summer internship or getting into the college of their choice.
Studies have shown that young people are concerned about privacy and security, but are still willing to accept the risks associated with sharing personal information on social media sites.
A 2009 study of more than 7,000 college students at 29 American universities revealed that three-quarters were concerned with the security of passwords, Social Security numbers and credit card numbers, but were not concerned about sharing personal information on sites such as Facebook. These social networking sites were viewed as relatively private spaces by students, and the consequences were deemed insignificant.
But don’t think this is a problem just for teenagers and young people. Adults have online risk as well.
In one example, a woman posted in several online forums information about a hacker attack on a company that makes software used to track sales for adult-entertainment Web sites. She claimed that the personal information of the sites’ customers was compromised. Later, the software company, which contends that no consumer data were compromised, sued the woman for defamation.
Bloggers are increasingly getting sued or threatened with legal action for everything from defamation to invasion of privacy to copyright infringement. In 2007, 106 civil lawsuits against bloggers and others in social networks and online forums were tallied by the Citizen Media Law Project at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, up from just 12 in 2003.
But there are steps you can take to help mitigate the risk while you and your family enjoy online activities:
The opinions and positions expressed are the authors’ own and not those of Chubb. The information and/ or data provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.