Easy for common sense to get lost in Web 2.0

Congratulations are in order because...I got married!
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Congratulations are in order because...I got married!

Okay, okay, so technically, April 1 was two days ago and pranks are no longer called for, but who said they should be played only on April Fools' Day?

Besides, you'll know it's a hoax because in the unlikelihood that wedding bells do ring for me, I'm not one to announce it on a widely public forum like this, and certainly not on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

But it's starting to seem that a growing number of Facebookers and Twitterers are posting more personal, and sometimes presumably confidential, information online. And even politicians are getting in on the act.

Pete Hoekstra, U.S. congressman and a ranking member of the country's House Intelligence Committee, ignited a media storm when he recently used Twitter to post real-time updates on the whereabouts of a secret congressional envoy in Iraq. Read: secret envoy. Though news agencies knew about the trip, they were put under embargo and the information kept under wraps due to safety reasons.

That didn't stop the congressman. He Twittered the arrival of the delegation in Baghdad, its visit to the U.S. embassy, and even when the delegates entered the Green Zone, or International Zone--a 10 square km secured area in Central Baghdad.

His oversight prompted the Pentagon to relook their current policy and identify different ways to communicate the non-disclosure policies of traveling delegates. In his defense, Hoekstra's spokespeople said he was merely trying to update his tech-savvy supporters and was conscious of the safety risks.

Obviously, politicians have good reasons to embrace social networks and other Web 2.0 tools. They need to appeal to the next generation of voters, and want a platform on which they can rally their political causes--whatever these may be. And flavor-of-the-month social networks like Facebook and Twitter are the perfect platforms for governments to extend their reach and spread their message as wide, and as fast, as they can.

The problem is, some of these political eager beavers don't realize how "fast" fast can be, or how "wide" wide can be.

If it is indeed true that Hoekstra was well aware of the security risks, as his spokespeople said, but he chose to still proceed with his Twitter posts from Baghdad, then something must be wrong somewhere. Perhaps he thought it highly unlikely that terrorists have the ability to, within minutes, gather missile-armed jets, fuel them up, and launch a massive attack based on information he posted.

Even if that was true, why take the unnecessary risk? Would his tech-savvy supporters have chastised him for being tardy if he provided his Twitter updates only after the delegation had left the location?

In their eagerness to adopt the latest tech fad, some people underestimate the speed and reach of these new platforms, overlooking the need to assess potential security threats. Such risks further intensify when they extend from the virtual realm into the physical world.

I've seen Facebookers casually discussing their dinner appointments with each other on the social-networking site, detailing the date, time and location of their little get-together. It's okay if it's done in a private profile list, where only friends can see these updates. But more likely than not, such discussions are held in the "open" where friends of friends of friends, and sometimes mere acquaintances of friends of friends, can easily view the details.

Sure, it's highly unlikely that someone will want to stalk an unknown person on Facebook whom they know only through six degrees of separation, unless perhaps, they're celebrities or high-profile personalities in their own right. Then again, why take the unnecessary risk?

Ensuring one's online security, just as in the physical world, requires some caution and common sense. Thing is, it's sometimes too easy for common sense to get lost in a Web 2.0 world.

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