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Six Tips for Staying Safe on Social-Networking Sites

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1030homespunweb.jpgBy Andrea Coombes, MarketWatch

RISMEDIA, Oct. 30, 2007-(MarketWatch)-The rise of social-networking brings the convergence of your personal life with your work life online.

People who participate on sites such as Facebook and MySpace are more likely to be sharing inside information with people who, before, they may have only passed the time of day with.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or an electrician, an executive or executive assistant, if you want to post a profile and “friend” people online, heed the tips below to ensure your online reputation doesn’t hinder your offline life.

Tips to protect your reputation, and your identity:

1. Look for tools that allow you to restrict access to your profile. On MySpace you can set your profile to “private,” as well as all or a portion of your photos. On Facebook the “limited profile” function lets you essentially create a profile that’s less personal for certain friends, while still maintaining a more in-depth profile for others.

2. Limit the degree to which you associate your online profile with work. While it makes sense to network online, if you start entering forums and conversations on diverse, more personal topics, consider whether your company name will be associated with your name. On Facebook, for instance, you can set your geographic network, rather than your workplace network, as your primary network so when you post messages to forums your name is connected to your city, not your employer, said Lee Aase, who writes a Weblog about Facebook.

3. Don’t alert people that you’re leaving town. “I don’t tell people I’m away,” said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant with Sophos, a computer security company. “I wait until I get back and then say, ‘Graham Cluley is back from Boston.’”

4. Be careful about whom you agree to “friend.” “Be selective. I’ve come across people in Facebook who claim to have over 1,500 friends,” Cluley said. “You can’t possibly be friends with all of these people.”

5. Think twice about what you’re posting. “If you’re not prepared to stand in the middle of Times Square and shout this information, then don’t post it on the Internet,” Cluley said. Don’t include your home address, for instance.

6. On Facebook, every time you join a network, adjust your privacy settings to ensure you don’t reveal all to everyone in that network. Sophos found that 75% of people in geographic networks allowed their profile to be viewed by another person on that network, Cluley said.

Andrea Coombes is MarketWatch’s assistant personal finance editor, based in San Francisco.

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