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I wander through life empowering experts to deal with chronic problems such as product safety, cancer, poverty and Internet privacy. Like taxes and dry cleaning, I often don't want to know the nitty gritty of how things get done.

Don't worry, that still leaves me plenty of issues to wring my hands over, like finding a job, a new client or perfect business partners. Yet when it comes to the Net I'm hands on enough to protect my personal data - and I favor penalties for firms that exploit vulnerable people. Privacy intrusions could lead to regulations that wreck the party for all of us.

Those of us who use social networks to help manage or advance professional relationships have paid rapt attention lately to rapidly evolving privacy policies on Facebook among other social networking sites. Facebook is the wild frontier of cyberspace.

Why do I say that? I don't want other sites reporting to Facebook what I have purchased - or whether I'm looking for a new job, a house or a car. That's nobody else's business - information I'm not planning to release to my social network contacts.

Here's 99% of what you need to know about privacy policies on social networks, job boards or blogs. You are the decider! You want to be the one who decides which contacts view or gathers information about you. Anything short of an opt-in by you is a non-starter.

On the other hand, if you opt to publish information about yourself - and I choose to subscribe to it - then I applaud social networks for helping to propagate this information exchange.

It Gets Worse?
Meanwhile, when it comes to safeguarding privacy, European authorities have long believed that Americans are clueless. I mention this because Facebook's Beacon isn't the only privacy issue in question. There's a fascinating new set of social networking recommendations from the European Network and Information Service Agency. ENISA, as it is known, recently released a report that contains 19 recommendations about how to beef up security and privacy on social networks.

How many of these potential threats in the ENISA report are on your radar screen?

  • Digital dossier aggregation: profiles on online social networks can be downloaded and stored by third parties
  • Face recognition: user-provided digital images can become a "binary identifier" that can link a user to other sites and profiles
  • Phishing attacks: Using data gathered from social networking profiles, social networking users can be targeted for phishing attacks for personal information. Some people even give out their home address, making it easier to social engineer an attack
  • Stalking: Cyberstalking is threatening behavior in which a perpetrator repeatedly contacts a victim by electronic means such as e-mail, Instant Messenger and messaging. And it is also possible on social networks
  • Corporate espionage: social engineering attacks using SNSs are a growing and often underrated risk to corporate IT infrastructure
  • ID Theft: Profile squatting and reputation slander are possible.

The report concludes that social networks can provide more granular ID control than blogs, for instance, but it "provides a dangerously powerful tool in the hands of spammers, unscrupulous marketers and others who may take criminal advantage of users."

Are the ENISA report writers - who include some U.S. professors, HP and Cisco officials - overly sensitive or fairly prescient about threats to us on social networks? Do any of these perceived threats darken your view of social networks?

Rusty Weston, My Global Career • San Francisco, Ca •