In South Africa, we have seen increasing concern about safety. Being safe in one’s home, being safe on the road and being safe everywhere except online. The only times digital security is ever mentioned in the country, is often in the context of Bradley Manning and the damning information he leaked about the NSA. That however is but only one part of the entire picture, in a country where even the most basic security concerns are often disregarded.
Many of my Facebook friends post photos showing their homes in the background. For example, one would post a pic with a caption saying 'spending the day at home with the little one helping me cook'. Enough such photos actually could allow a Facebook friend to put together the layout of your home; know where the entrances are and even what is in one’s home.
Another form of risky online behaviour is Facebook and FourSquare check-ins. It is alarming to see how many people check-in at ‘home’, oblivious to the fact that this provides us with a map of your location (Facebook) and GPS coordinates (FourSquare). The very same person perhaps goes on to share how 'The entire family is going on holiday and I am so traumatised that my pet has to be left elsewhere' or something similar, allowing those who have access to their exact address to know that their home is empty for a certain period of time.
While all the actions mentioned above seem harmless enough when being done, they are potentially very dangerous and make one vulnerable. Not everyone who is a Facebook and/or FourSquare friend and a Twitter and/or Instagram follower is harmless and to assume otherwise only increases one’s vulnerability when undertaking risky online behaviour.
It is also important that people realise how their risky online behaviour can also put others at risk. A number of my Facebook friends check-in their friends and acquaintances with them, which also seems harmless enough. After all, we do want to share whom we are spending certain moments with. Problem however is, that friend may be avoiding an abusive former partner who is then able to access the exact place that your friend is. Or perhaps that friend is a single parent whose address others have through their check-ins and now there are people who know that the friend is out.
While all these scenarios may seem far-fetched or highly unlikely, it is important that they are given thought when partaking in online activities. Sometimes it’s as simple as questioning what is the potential danger of this check-in or sharing this post? Is there anything harmful that could happen because of it? At other times, it may be necessary to do much more than ask oneself questions. It could entail ensuring that people- especially children- with access to an internet enabled device is made to understand the potential dangers of sharing certain information and images online. Ensuring that those enable access to the internet and promote the use of digital tools also consistently make users aware of the potential dangers they face online. And raising awareness about various setting options available on the various online channels one uses.
With internet penetration in the country increasing as rapidly as it is, it is necessary that we understand that safety is something that should also apply in our online activities too.