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Pinterest is Fun, But There Are Privacy Risks

Pinterest is the relatively new kid on the block that is taking the social media world by storm.  If you haven’t heard of it or tried it out, Pinterest is a social networking service that lets you upload and pin pictures to your own online picture boards. It’s like a pictorial Twitter where all your pins are visible to users in a public timeline stream of photos.

You can re-pin pictures you find on Pinterest, or anywhere else on the web with the right browser plugin. You can follow and be followed by other users if you fancy their pins or they fancy yours. You can also comment on pins wherever you find them so you can discuss pictures with others.

I have to confess that I’ve been really caught up in the Pinterest phenomenon. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been pinning pictures of a few of my favorite things in the areas of music, movies, and humor. Pinterest is just flat out fun. I love seeing the new images that come down the wire. It’s like looking at a new photo album every time you go to the Pinterest website.

But on the flip side of all this Pinteresting stuff – the company’s even got me talking like them – Pinterest is all about public exposure. If you are not careful you can really sacrifice your privacy and damage your reputation using this service.

Be Careful What You Pin


Let me state this simply and clearly, there are no privacy controls supported by Pinterest, period.  Like Twitter everything you pin is seen by everybody, not just your followers. There are no controls you can use to limit the visibility of what you pin or comment on like there are on Facebook and Google+. And like Twitter, once your pictures and comments go online, there’s no taking them back.

The easiest way to avoid torching your privacy or just embarrassing yourself online is to really think twice about any picture or comment you want to post. Following these guidelines, which seem like common sense to me, should keep you out of trouble on Pinterest:

  • Don’t post any pictures that you wouldn’t feel comfortable showing to anyone including your parents, kids or co-workers (that includes your boss) in person. It’s easy to get carried away with pictures. Stuff you’d only be willing to show to your closest friends, you probably don’t want everybody to see. So stop and think before you pin. If you feel comfortable showing anyone a given picture in person and are reasonably sure they wouldn’t be offended, then you are probably OK going online with it.
  • Similarly don’t add any comments to pins that you wouldn’t be able to say to anyone in person.  Your intentions may not be to insult or alienate somebody with your comments, but things can be taken out of context. Basically if you don’t have something nice or informative to say then don’t say anything at all.
  • Don’t reveal your current location online, particularly if you are away from home. Trust me, nobody really cares where you are every 10 minutes of the day, with the possible exception of thieves who might be interested in breaking into your house when they find out you are not there.  Save your posts for pictures when you are on a truly great vacation that people might actually enjoy looking at. And don’t use Pinterest for this, stick to Facebook, Google+ and other services where you stand a reasonable chance of limiting the circulation of these photos and the information that you are out of town.
  • Parents, help your kids your with these suggestions and let them know what you consider to be material appropriate to put online. Kids are kids, as they say, and don’t always realize the ramifications of what they do, particularly if it seems like harmless good fun. But what they share online can be harmful to them and to others. Take a look at my blog 10 Social Networking Tips for Parents to get other ideas for helping your kids use social networking responsibly.

Are You Pinterested?


So far I haven’t seen anything particularly outrageous on Pinterest. But maybe I just haven’t been looking hard enough. I’m interested to find out if any of you Fearless Web readers have seen Pinsanity – it’s easy to get carried away with the company’s name –  that makes you shake your head in surprise or disgust. Let us know by commenting on this blog, our Facebook page or dropping us a line at askvic@trendmicro.com.