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Protect your privacy online

Safety tips

How can you prevent this from happening to you?

Google yourself regularly. Better yet, set up a Google alert ( Also, if your name has a common alternative spelling (such as Jamie and Jaime), set up both.

Check your security settings at least once a month. Social networking sites change the default settings for their security often, so you want to make sure your information is protected.

Think before you pose. Don't get in photos that you don't want on the Internet. To further control who sees images of you on Facebook, untag yourself in your friends' albums.

If this happens, what do you do?

• Contact the site or the site's host. Explain what happened and insist the information be removed immediately.

• If your images were lifted from Facebook, contact them through their site. They have a reputation to maintain, and lifting information does violate their terms.

• If you don't get results through these means, you may need to contact the authorities or a lawyer.

Sources: Richard Weinblatt, an Internet security expert from Orlando, and Scott Peterson, a litigation partner for Tully Rinckey in Albany, N.Y.

Last fall, Sue Rock's friend found her on an Internet dating site. The photo — one she had posted only on Facebook — was definitely of Rock. Many of the details, such as her hobbies, also were accurate.

But a few details were off.

The profile said she had a two-year degree. She has a bachelor's.

And the site had her down as a Gemini. The 36-year-old from Schenectady, N.Y., was born in the middle of July, which makes her a Cancer.

While the Plenty of Fish profile appeared to be Rock's, it wasn't. She was the victim of Facebook pilfering. Someone had weeded through her Facebook profile — plucking information and photos — and created a dating profile. She was single, and had dabbled on several Internet dating sites, but she'd never used that photo. It just wasn't her best.

This is a growing problem, said Scott Peterson, a litigation partner at Tully Rinckey in Albany, N.Y. Society is seeing an increase in the potential for litigation rising out of what is essentially harassment. By pretending to be someone else, you could damage a person's reputation.

Example: Say there's an off-color, inaccurate profile or post about a person, and their spouse, their children or even their employer finds out. Although the person portrayed had nothing to do with the content, many people won't know that. Their reputation could be affected, Peterson said.

Or, as was the case with Rock, the whole thing can be annoying, time-consuming and frustrating. Rock contacted Plenty of Fish and explained the situation. While they would not release the information about who created the account, they did remove the profile.

To prove just how easy it is to create a believable profile of someone other than yourself, two men in Europe "scraped" profiles from Facebook to build a mock dating site, (As of this week, the site was temporarily down due to a cease-and-desist order from Facebook stating "scraping" — lifting the computer code that makes up the images and text on a site and repurposing it on another Web page — violates the social networking site's terms.)

The men were proving a point: that the security on your Internet footprint is as weak as an old barn roof loaded with snow. It doesn't take much to crack it.

Protect your privacy online 03/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 11:20am]
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Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Albany (N.Y.) Times Union.

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