Online social networks are great; just be careful
SOCIAL networks have taken the world of technology by storm. Social networks facilitate the sharing of information between you and what amounts to an unlimited number of people. They are cheap (often free), functional, easy to use, and profitable for their purveyors -- what's not to like? The two most popular social networks (MySpace and Facebook) alone have close to 200 million users.
However, with this many apples, you're bound to have a few rotten ones. As such, there are a myriad of issues involving social networks, some well publicized, others less so. These may be quite worrisome, but most can be overcome.
First, and probably most well known, is that social networks can pose a danger to minors. In fact, social networks are a popular tool used by law enforcement officials to trap potential predators, since, of course, many sickos use social networks to lure their prey.
Part of the problem is that age-verification isn't quite a mature technology. Most social networks don't allow users under 14, but they don't take a pro-active approach to weeding out kids. Rather, many social networks perform after-the-fact audits to search for potential discrepancies.
Some social networks require new users to have a valid e-mail address in order to confirm their registration. However, we think this is kind of weak.
The bottom line is that parents need to monitor their kids' computer usage.
Another big concern to users of social networks is privacy. By their very nature, social networks encourage users to post personal information. Many folks, eager to share with their "friends," ignore warnings to be careful about what they put on their pages. As a result, online footprints reveal information that can be used for nefarious purposes, such as identity theft or harassment.
Compounding this problem are features in most social networking sites that allow members to search for users using characteristics such as where you went to high school. It's very common for users to mistakenly flag sensitive information as public, when in fact it should be private.
As with any type of Web site, people need to be very careful when supplying personal information. If you absolutely must put sensitive information out there, make sure it's secure.
Regardless of their problems, social networks are here to stay and will only grow in popularity.
is president of ISDI Technologies Inc., a Honolulu-based IT consultancy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org