Elon to students: Keep personal info protected online

The university has launched a new effort to warn students of the dangers of posting personal data to online social networking sites. Student workers in the technology office scoured Facebook to find classmates whose room location was viewable by the public, and starting this week, school officials are reminding those who do not protect that information of the risks they incur.

“It’s a safety concern that we have,” said Scott Hildebrand, director of Instructional Technology Services at Elon, on the students whose dorm locations are easily found on Facebook. “Students don’t always think other people can gain this information.”
While the network site allows students to hide personal contact information from the general public, not everyone does, and it was this group that concerned leaders who work in the technology office.  “It’s a safety concern that we have,” said Scott Hildebrand, director of Instructional Technology Services at Elon. “Students don’t always think other people can gain this information.”

The fliers to be given to identified students make that clear with their headline: “If I were a predator, I would know where you live… (We aren’t your Facebook friend, and we don’t know you, but we found you.)” Safety precautions aren’t the only bit of advice offered in the notice. Officials remind students that 77 percent of employers “are uncovering your online digital dirt” and that 35 percent of employers “have eliminated a candidate based on information found online.”

Once information is posted online, in most instances, it is impossible take it back. Other Web users can save photos or notes before students remove them. Search engines, like Google or Yahoo!, keeps digital copies of web pages for retrieval years later.

Public safety officials at Elon said common sense with regards to campus addresses and contact information can help keep the campus safe.

“There are predators throughout the country who are always looking for opportunities,” said Elon University Police Chief Chuck Gantos. “When you put that type of information out to the general population, you open yourself up, and we don’t want our students to do that.”

The fliers offer practical advice for using the Internet:

1.) Always utilize privacy and security settings available on online social networking sites.

2.) Be selective with the personal information you decide to post.

3.) Limit postings of personally identifying information, including addresses, phone numbers email addresses and dates of birth.

4.) Do not accept “friend” requests from someone you do not know.

5.) Be aware of Elon’s policies regarding social networking. (Click here to see the policy.)

“Elon University is a community dedicated to the intellectual, personal, and spiritual growth of all of its members, especially its students. Technology contributes to these goals,” Hildebrand said. “However, it also brings unprecedented vulnerability to individuals and our larger community. We must also recognize the effect our individual actions have on the larger community.”

In the spring of 2006, a task force of students, faculty, and staff developed a values statement regarding the use of technology, Hildebrand said. The new campaign is a direct result of the task force.

For more information about Elon’s efforts to keep students safe online, visit www.elon.edu/beaware. The program is sponsored by RSA and the offices of Instructional and Campus Technologies, Residence Life, Campus Safety and Police, and Personal Health Programs and Community Well-Being.