We live in a world where technology is literally at our fingertips and with access to internet via phones, computers and tablets.   In a matter of seconds we can access information on almost anything, whether it be searching for an item to buy such as clothes, equipment etc or perhaps booking flights, a hotel or event.  It would seem that there is very little that cannot be achieved online today.  The wide world has definitely become very accessible.

Unfortunately, we too have become accessible.  Through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp and Snapchat to name but a few,  some of  us rarely go through a day without interaction on at least one of these forums.  The use of email and text messaging is quickly being replaced by the use of social networking as a means of communication.  If we want to announce news or an event we can simply create a post and present it online in the knowledge that it will reach a large audience in a short amount of time. This certainly has is benefits and is even used as a marketing tool by many businesses.  But we have to take the time to consider just what happens to the information we volunteer online? More importantly, who can see it and what do they do with it?

Data Protection and privacy issues have become hot topics in recent years and we are constantly being reminded when we make calls, browse online or even sign papers, that our data may be recorded for various reasons such a quality control or verification. ‘Cookies’ monitor our online browsing preferences so we then receive targeted marketing material through online advertisements.  There is little we can do about this and it is now a part of our daily interaction with the outside world.  But what about the information we volunteer on our social media accounts?  What about the pictures we post online? Who owns this information once it has been posted on one of these forums?

Now you see me….now you don’t:

In a worrying example which occurred last year Snapchat came under the spotlight due to an alleged retention of data which had been sent over its phone application.  While many people believed that pictures they sent over Snapchat “disappeared” after a few seconds, it appears this was not quite true.  It was also claimed Snapchat retained information on its subscribers which subsequently became the target of hackers and apparently content was released online much to the horror of its users.  Similarly, other social networking applications may retain user information.  Even deleted content is more than likely still lurking somewhere on a server.

The reality is once you post information on the internet it is always there and when you use these applications you consent to this. Despite the recent Google case which allows users to have information removed online, it will be extremely difficult to fully remove any such record.  In many instances, the information will have been accessed by third parties who may have kept copies or redistributed it, often without your consent or knowledge.

Protect yourself online: There are a few things we can do to limit who accesses our information online.  Firstly, read the privacy policies and terms and conditions for online forums and browsers you use.  Secondly, check your account settings to see who has access to your profile and restrict access where possible.  Some forums have a default ‘public’ access but this can be changed to friends or verified contacts only.  Thirdly, ‘location settings’ allow apps to show your location when you post content online.  For the younger generations especially, this can be a risky novelty.  I’m sure many of us were envious seeing friends check in on Facebook to Millennium Stadium recently to cheer on the boys in Green but this is just an example of how accessible we have become to each other particularly if you tried to call in ‘sick’  to your boss the following morning! Needless to say it is our responsibility to be mindful of what information to put out there for the public to see. Lets face it we are all guilty of that need to share and connect with people particularly when something special occurs in our lives such as the birth of child, a birthday or ‘checking in’ while on holidays. It allows us to stay up to date with what’s happening with our friends and family.

So folks, as a cautionary tale this Hallowe’en remember cookies are more than just a sweet treat so perhaps don’t be so concerned about those things you cant see…but who can see you….Happy Hallowe’en!!