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Safety First

How much do you trust the people in your social networks – those you know and those you don’t? And how much should you give away about yourself? 

A few years ago, a mutual friend introduced me to a very bright software developer. Over the last few years, I’ve been happy to give advice to this developer – advice he has used to create a brilliant product.

Only after I started extolling the virtues of his product throughout my networks did I learn that this person had a long and chequered history.

He had such a toxic back-story, most Australians wouldn’t consider doing business with him, no matter how brilliant his innovation.

When I reported my surprise and displeasure to the friend who had introduced us, she tossed it off with a, “You know, there’s this thing called Google …” And it’s true, I could have done a background check – instead, I relied on the strength of the personal recommendation. My mistake.

For just this reason, the Japanese are reluctant to make personal introductions.

In Japanese culture, the person making the introduction is responsible when that relationship goes awry.

This happens more often than we care to admit. Last year, a friend in California – a very prominent technology entrepreneur – found himself forced to apologize to all of his business associates because he’d hired a notorious computer hacker, who was awaiting trial for hacking, into his firm. Although the hacker had done nothing wrong during the time my friend employed him, a simple Google search at the beginning of the interview process would have saved my friend a very painful and public embarrassment.

Live and learn. Today we have fantastic tools to uncover hidden facts, but we also have incredible capabilities to establish and strengthen connections between individuals. So we find ourselves in a dilemma: do we trust our social networks, or do we check every recommendation ruthlessly? (Is there enough time in the day for all that fact-checking?)

In other words, can we really trust our social networks?

A recent study showed that people were very willing to let people they didn’t know follow them on Twitter. (I must admit I’m guilty of this sin.) Yet, once someone follows you, they have access to all sorts of information that could be used against you. Criminals could keep track of your comings and goings to target your home. Exciting tweets about your latest passion (human or otherwise) could be used to profile you for a scam. Someone with malevolent intent could take all of this information we’re freely sharing and turn it against us.

“Someone with malevolent intent could take all of this information we’re freely sharing [through social networks] and turn it against us”

In the UK, insurance firms are looking into the implications of all of this. Should people who innocently reveal potentially dangerous information pay higher premiums for their openness? We know that social networks have an opportunity cost – you must be present and active within them to benefit from them – but we never realized they might exact a financial cost or a security cost.

Because of the value revealed within our social networks, we need to review them periodically and weed out the bad, the dangerous, and the useless. Connections are great, but not every connection is good. #

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