The only 100% effective way to protect your privacy online is abstinence

Two weeks ago, Klout unleashed its new algorithm and sent the Interwebs into a tizzy. Then, last week, they scored another few days of social media backlash over privacy issues. The interesting thing to me is that Facebook and Twitter (the two biggest major networks that are linked to Klout) aren't getting any criticism for offering up their users' data.

The latest issue about privacy came up when a woman noticed that her teenage son had a Klout profile.

I get that it's likely alarming to see your child with a Klout score. But I don't think that it should have caused the uproar that it did. People were deleting their Klout accounts, citing the privacy issues and not wanting their friends and family exposed.

All I saw was a great big misunderstanding about privacy. Klout gets information from all Twitter users (other than those whose tweets are protected) and Facebook users who connect their accounts - with one minor exception. If a Facebook user with no link to Klout comments on a public post of someone who does have their account linked, a profile will be created. But that profile probably has very little data to access. For instance, if I'm not friends with you and you go look me up on Facebook, you will see a few public posts, my name and a handful of other fairly innocuous details. It's nothing that you can't find out about me on a number of other sites where I have a public profile.

That's all Klout can see until someone "opts in" or registers for the full service. The same is true for Twitter, though with the majority of twitter users' tweets being public, there is quite a bit more data to see.

I think people are absolutely right to be concerned about privacy when using Web-based services. It's important to be aware of what you're sharing and how it's being used by the networks you're a member of. However, relying on the privacy controls of a company that is trying to make money off of their free product that you use is folly.

Ultimately, the one and only person responsible for your privacy online is the one who stares at you in the mirror everyday.

  • It's your job to think about what basic personal information you provide to a social network.

  • It's your job to avoid posting tweets that, strung together, will lead a direct path to your door.

  • It's your job to establish and maintain boundaries.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: Your Facebook data is only as secure as the weakest password on your friends list. It doesn't matter that there's a barrier to entry (login screen). If you post information there that you wouldn't post outside that password-protected site, then you are vulnerable.

As users, we must begin to take more responsibility for our own privacy and stop expecting the social networks to take on the job of protecting us. We need to learn how each of the networks behave and stay abreast of the changes they make. We need to teach our children to do the same.

Here's how to protect your privacy online in one easy step: Don't share anything on social sites that you don't mind going public.

When I see the story of Tonia Ries' son, I see an opportunity to educate parents and kids alike. She did everything within her power and the privacy controls to shield her son. The result of this incident is that we've all learned something from this story that we didn't know before. Spreading the word is valuable. Unless the world suddenly becomes willing to pay for social networking sites, the free sites will continue to use our data to fund their existence.

I don't for a minute think that Klout intended to set up a profile for a minor. More than likely, that particular information wasn't made public so Klout's automated screenings would have no way of differentiating based on age.

Do you post publicly on Facebook? Does knowing about this incident with Tonia Ries make you want to delete your Klout profile to protect your friends and family?