Year over year, society becomes more reliant on the Internet and all that it provides. It’s gotten to a point where many users blindly accept terms and conditions, don’t quite read or retain updates to privacy policies, and are unknowingly allowing huge social media platforms to use their information in ways many would protest to, if they were paying attention. But the fact is that we rarely are paying attention — and that can have consequences.
Taking control over what is shared about us online is key to safe-guarding our identities and information. This is particularly important for a cancer patient or survivor who may be weighing the pros and cons of disclosing his/her diagnosis.
The Washington Post published an article pointing out some of the default settings of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft that these giants are counting on users to overlook, ignore and/or discount, but which should actually be carefully evaluated and changed based on personal preferences. While some of these standards might seem harmless, here are a few concerning actions taken on the part of these companies — and how you can address them:
- Google can track everything you search for and everywhere you go, which means it’s possible that when you look up your oncologist’s address, that information could potentially be shared. That, in turn, could pose a challenge if you’ve decided not to disclose your diagnosis. The default setting allows Google to keep a history of all the websites you’ve visited and all the search terms you’ve used. To change this, simply go into your settings and select the option that indicates Google will not keep this history. While it means you’re no longer able to use your history to revisit sites, it also means Google doesn’t have your search and use history saved and at its disposal to use how it wishes.
- Facebook can share your page likes, interests, and friends with advertisers, meaning that the supportive cancer group you’ve joined on Facebook could be sharing all of your interests to advertisers, and companies may soon know some very intimate details of your cancer experience. To address this, you can go into your FB privacy settings and adjust who, exactly, can see your information. The choices are “Public” (all of Facebook), “Friends” (only those you have personally connected with and accepted) or “Me only” (the most secure and private). Depending on your choice, this can mean that strangers are no longer able to find you on Facebook, which can be a great protection and allow you much more control over who has access to your information.
- Amazon can make your “Wish List” public, which means that as you scroll through and add items (pain modifiers, head scarves, comfort pillows, etc.) that you think may help you get through chemo treatment, this is shared with others and could ultimately identify you as a cancer patient. In order to prevent this, you can go into your privacy settings and switch your choice to “Private.” While this means you’ll no longer receive any surprise presents off of your list, it also means strangers are not gaining personal information about products you want and inferring the reasons why you want them.
Of course these are just few examples of the power these enormous companies have to obtain our personal online information. At Cancer and Careers, we want to make sure that patients and survivors understand how to properly protect themselves online. Obviously personal preferences will vary for each individual in terms of how much he/she wishes to share, but having control over who gets your information, what they are privy to, and how it may be shared in the online space is vitally important. The bottom line is: There is no control without fully understanding the way privacy settings work and an awareness of standard default settings.
If you’re interested in learning step-by-step processes for accessing and adjusting your privacy settings on some of the popular social media platforms used by cancer patients and survivors, be sure to download our Managing Online Privacy one-sheet from our Publications Page.
Additionally, if you feel you could benefit from a better understanding of the impact of the online space on your privacy as a cancer patient or survivor, be sure to join us for our upcoming Disclosure, Privacy & Online Brand webinar. You can get more details and register on our Balancing Work & Cancer Webinars page.