At the very least, be sure your file sharing options are turned off. And be certain that the hotspot is a legitimate one. When you're done, be sure you log out; and if you're working on a public computer, be absolutely certain that you've closed the browser.
Don't Ask, But Facebook Might Tell
Protecting yourself from the implications of the newest Facebook privacy twist will be more complicated. Researchers from Microsoft and Germany's Max Planck Institute found that advertisers may be able to determine the sexual orientation of people by seeing who's clicking on ads, even when those ads don't appear to be targeted at gays.
To see how Web ads might related to sexuality, the researchers created Facebook profiles for straight men and women, and a gay man and a lesbian. With all else being equal, the ads did change depending on orientation, particularly for the gay male, "indicating that advertisers target more strongly to [gay males]," the researchers wrote.
"The danger with such ads, unlike the gay bar ad where the target demographic is blatantly obvious, is that the user reading the ad text would have no idea that by clicking it he would reveal to the advertiser both his sexual-orientation and a unique identifier (cookie, IP address, or email address if he signs up on the advertiser's site)," they said.
Receiving an ad geared toward ones sexual orientation might or might not be bothersome to different people. At first glance, it doesn't seem like an important issue. But because there is the potential to tie Facebook identifiers to specific individuals, there is the danger that someone who wants to keep his or her orientation private could be outed.
There's no obvious defense against this potential invasion of privacy. After all, the point of Facebook and other social networks is to relate to a like-minded group. At the very least, think seriously about what you post and share. Ultimately, though, if you're really worried about privacy, voting with your feet (or more aptly, your mouse) and leaving Facebook behind might be a painful, but necessary step.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. He welcomes your comments and suggestions. Reach him at email@example.com.
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