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Social Media: The True Threat to Digital Privacy

Every time you click on a link, search the Internet or post a photo to social media, personal information is being collected, says Washington state's first chief privacy officer.

(TNS) -- Washington state's first chief privacy officer says the government probably isn't that interested in you, but Facebook is compiling a complex profile. Every time you click on a link, search the Internet or post a photo to social media, personal information is being collected, said Alex Alben.

"We're creating a footprint of ourselves that will live on after we're gone," Alben said Tuesday night at Basalt Cellars Winery in Clarkston. "Millions of people can know about us, and I'm not sure we've mentally adjusted to that."

Alben, an author, former entertainment attorney and media researcher, is the latest Humanities Washington speaker to visit the area as part of the Asotin County Library's Wine and Wisdom series. He was named chief privacy officer for the state in April.

"We are in a new era of data mining and surveillance is growing," Alben told an audience of about 15. "If you put your info out there, it's fair game."

As a privacy advocate, Alben recommends using Facebook's privacy settings so only your friends can see what you post. On average, if you share with "friends of friends," your vacation pictures can be viewed by about 90,000 people.

Check your bank statements frequently to make sure the charges are legit, and change all of your passwords every three months or so, Alben advised. In addition, don't answer emails from people you don't know.

"People need to be more conscious of their choices," he said. "It's OK to turn off the GPS on your cellphone."

The state may soon put out a guide to help residents protect their privacy, he said. One of the tools that's available is to have your system scraped by the Direct Marketing Association, which removes data from unauthorized information collectors.

A lot of personal data is collected by the state, but it's never sold to advertisers, Alben said.

"The reality is the government is not that interested in you. Your life is not that interesting," he said. "Facebook, on the other hand, is very interested."

Recent allegations of the U.S. government tracking, reading, and sharing email communications have reignited the debate over privacy and security. How we cope with this new environment determines the meaning of "private citizen" in a digital culture.

"Hopefully, we're getting our arms around this," Alben said.

©2015 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.