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Ignoring These 5 Privacy Mistakes Can Cost You Your Job

If you haven’t been paying attention to your online privacy, it’s time to sit tight — or it could cost you your job.
privacy mistakes
Mike MacKenzie/Flickr

Here are some interesting facts according to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management:

  • 43 percent of organizations use social media or online search engines to screen job candidates
  • 36 percent of organizations have disqualified a job candidate in the past year due to information found on social media or online search
  • Worse, only 39 percent of organizations allow candidates to explain concerning information found about them online

Numerous people have lost their jobs due to posting what they think is innocent content on social media. For some, the mistake is posting a joke. For others, the mistake is posting a picture. Take Ashley Payne, a teacher from Georgia, for example: her mistake was posting a picture of herself holding a glass of wine and a pint of beer on a personal social media profile. It didn’t take long for her to get fired.

Numerous examples like Payne’s abound, but the real error almost all the victims make is that of not paying careful attention to their online privacy.

43 percent of organizations use social media or online search engines to screen job candidates.Click To Tweet

If you don’t want to lose your job anytime soon, be sure to avoid the following privacy mistakes:

1. Not educating yourself about your workplace privacy policy

Not educating yourself about your employer’s privacy policy can cost you your job. In Ashley Payne’s case, her employer had a policy that prohibited employees from posting pictures of themselves using alcohol on social media. Payne wasn’t aware of this, however. She would later sue her employer for not making her aware of her rights, but she lost the case.

Some suggestions:

  • As an employee, it is your duty to educate yourself about your workplace’s privacy policy. Failure to do so could lead to you being terminated in a way you feel isn’t justified.
  • If you are not sure about your employer’s privacy policy regarding something you want post (or an opinion you want to express) online, it is better to err on the side of caution.

2. Adding coworkers and superiors on social media

Another privacy mistake is that of adding coworkers and superiors on your personal social media. When you add coworkers and superiors on social media, you should know that nothing you do is private anymore. It could be on your profile in the morning and on the CEO’s desk in the afternoon. Worse, it could get you fired.

Suggestions:

  • Don’t add coworkers and superiors as friends on social media — especially if you are the kind that freely share stuffs with your “friends” on social media.
  • Create a “professional” social media profile/page for friends and use your personal profile only for close, personal contacts.

3. Connecting to a public Wi-Fi Without a VPN, or with an Insecure VPN

When eBay made news for being the victim of a hack that exposed the details of about 145 million users, everybody was surprised. Very few people knew, however, that the hack was only due to the computers of three key employees being compromised. Yes, eBay, an internet giant, was hacked because of the computers of a few of its employees.

Most employees used to working from public Wi-Fi without ensuring additional measures of security will pay for it sooner rather than later.

When working from a public Wi-Fi, take additional security measures:

  • Assume that all your internet activity on a public Wi-Fi is exposed — that is unless you take extra measures to protect yourself.
  • Use a VPN service to encrypt and secure your online activity.
  • Avoid “free” VPNs. Nothing is really free, especially VPNs. It costs money to set up the server and to purchase bandwidth, so if you are not paying for the service your data is probably being collected and sold, or you’re being served ads, to generate money to power the VPN servers.
  • Pay attention to the encryption protocol used. As a rule, you want to avoid VPNs that use the PPTP protocol as it is the least secure. VPNs that use the OpenVPN and/or L2TP/IPSec protocol are generally the most secure.
  • Pay careful attention to the logging policy of the VPN service you are using. Most VPN service providers will tell you that your data won’t be logged, but taking a moment to read the privacy policy will reveal that something is being logged. You want to make sure absolutely nothing is being logged.

4. Ignoring Stuff You Posted Online Years Ago Because You Posted Them Before You Got Your Job

There have been several cases of people being terminated due to stuff they posted years ago, that they think has been forgotten, resurfacing online.

The internet doesn’t forget.

What you innocently posted years ago could be dug out, reshared or sent to your employers. This can put you in a very tough spot. And it could cost you your job. Part of taking care of your privacy includes doing a thorough background check on yourself and cleaning stuff that could put you in trouble.

5. Not paying attention to your social media privacy settings

Social media sites by default thrive on information going around, so the default settings ensures people can see pretty much all you do. This could pose serious issues.

Some ideas:

  • Change your privacy settings and to only reveal information you want to reveal to the people you want to reveal it to.
  • Change your location settings to ensure location data isn’t shared by default.

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Have you ever lost a job due to a privacy issue? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

John Stevens
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