Sure it's fun to participate in the web. It's a fantastic research tool and helps you connect with people for business or personal reasons. Any person anywhere can start a blog or website and share their thoughts with the world.
That's great and everything, but when you participate in the web, you're putting yourself at risk for several reasons:
The first and most obvious mistake people make is forgetting that there's a lot more people on the web than them and a few of their friends. Every bad person you can think from your jealous ex, to a terrorist, all the way up to your mother-in-law is there too. And if you post something publicly, the rest of the world wide web can see it too (emphasis on the word world).
For example, how about the dude who landed a well-paying job with Cisco corporation only to lose it when they found his Tweet explaining that he didn't really want to work there, he just wanted the "fatty paycheck" (which earned him the Internet famous name; Cisco Fatty).
And then there's this famous example of someone who got fired on Facebook for ranting about her boss while forgetting that her boss was one of her "friends" and could see the whole thing:
The point is, people speak without really thinking about who can see it or assume that the worst possible person to find a post, won't find that post. A big false assumptions that gets tons of people in trouble:
- Hit and run dude gets nailed by his Facebook
- Caught having a party at the parent's place without permission
- A girl shares her need for a false ID forgetting her father might not like the idea so much
- Dude tweets his vacation as it happens, but the thieves reading it thanked him for making it obvious he wasn't home.
In some cases (even a few listed above) it wasn't the person in question that spread it, but someone else instead. There are websites that allow people to take screenshots of stupidity online and share it with the world (Failbook for example).
If someone thinks what you posted is funny or embarrassing, they can share it which takes something you might have wanted to keep private and makes it public.
People say the Internet is forever because it is. Once something is posted online, it can be stored and kept forever by anyone. Removing things once they've been found is essentially impossible. While you can do some hard and time-consuming work to reduce or overshadow the bad information, eliminating it entirely isn't going to happen.
Just ask singer Barbara Streisand who's public attempt to squash photos of her house posted to the web by a local blogger ended in far more publicity than if she'd done nothing.
Or there's Christian rock band singer, Hayley Williams who accidentally Tweeted a topless photo of herself that had been meant for instant message to her boyfriend.
Besides being picked up by search engines, there are projects out there that archive data such as The Internet Archive or even the Library of Congress that plans to archive all the world's inane thoughts spread through Twitter (for future generations to laugh at I assume).
While reputation management can be done, it's clearly much better to be careful before it's online.
We already talked about how accidental posting can be a problem, but now let's talk about the risks of accidental or negligent disclosure on the part of the people who hold your data. There is breach after breach reported online from pages like Myspace and Facebook. Some women who meant to privately send "morale boosting" topless photos of themselves to their husbands in the middle east were upset (to say the least) to find that a flaw in the photo-sharing service made it possible for interested parties to capture and keep the photos for their own "morale boost".
The sad fact is that if you give your data to someone else to hold, you're trusting them to do it properly and historically, that hasn't worked well in many cases.