Online life a real-world danger: Privacy czar

16 Mag Online life a real-world danger: Privacy czar

The Hamilton Spectator, By Meredith Macleod, May 14, 2009

In our quest to virtually connect with others, we’re thoughtlessly and naively putting out information that can be used against us in classrooms, boardrooms and around the dinner table. That’s the view of Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner, who released her annual report yesterday. The social networking site Facebook is so pervasive that 77 per cent of employers say they look up potential hires and a shocking one-third of them have rejected a candidate based on what they found. Those candidates don’t ever get a call for an interview and don’t know that their Facebook life is to blame. Employees have been fired for dissing their boss or company online or for chatting on Facebook while taking a sick day. The online world is fraught with privacy pitfalls, Cavoukian said. She tells her staff that any e-mail sent from the office must pass this tall test: could it appear on the front page of a national newspaper? Cavoukian talks to kids, warning them their parents can monitor them on Facebook and other sites (often called creeping) and tells students that professors actively search such websites. Personal information can also be used by predators to commit fraud or identity theft or to lure, stalk or harass a victim. Cavoukian said Facebook has extensive privacy controls but most of the 200 million users either don’t know about them or choose not to use them. For instance, her own profile is only viewable by four members of her immediate family. “People need to understand that there is risk in putting it all out there,” Cavoukian said in an interview. “Forget embarrassment, it can affect your ability to get a job … The reality is that nothing you put online is private.”