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Nov 22, 2013

Social Media "Prank" Has a Serious Lesson

Jack Vale describes his "Social Media Experiment" as a "prank,"  but for those interested in social media and privacy, he makes a great point.

In his video (also posted below) Vale approaches people does not know in public places and greets them by name. Then he pretends to be a mind-reader, apparently guessing details about them and their lives.

Finally, the big reveal: he admits that he got the information from the person's social media posts. He searched for the location on Instagram, found a current post from someone there, then searched social media for more information about that person before approaching them.

"Thanks for invading our privacy," one person says after he is let in on the secret. "I'll call the police if you do that again." (Of course, he has no basis for this. Looking up someone's online profiles is not a crime.) But the other "victims" seem more amused, and more amazed at what Vale was able to find out about them.

They shouldn't be. After all, they posted all that information themselves, and made it available to the world. (If their privacy settings had been different -- a difficult task, given the ever-changing defaults of most social media sites -- Vale wouldn't have been able to get the information, or even find them in the first place.)

Vale's "experiment" makes a serious point: any user of social media -- no matter what their privacy settings -- leaves a digital trail. And by scouring these various social media sites and services, a stranger may be able to get a pretty accurate picture of someone, including some information that that someone would rather not be known.

"I use social media all the time, and this experiment has definitely made me think a little differently about it," Vale says at the end of his video. "Does it creep you out that a stranger can get this information about you, or, 'No big deal'?"

Good question, and one that all social media users should consider.

H/t: 3 Geeks and a Law Blog

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