LinkedIn Dangerous? Forbes Thinks So – Ahh, the Irony

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forbes_home_logo.gifForbes published a list this week of The Ten Most Dangerous Online Activities. Now some of these are obvious no-nos, like clicking on e-mail attachments from unknown senders (#1), or surfing gambling, porn or other dicey sites (#5). Others are questionable, like #8 – using any old Wi-Fi network, and #10 – participating in chat rooms or social networking sites. They even chose to single out LinkedIn:

“The biggest security challenges businesses face with business social networking like LinkedIn is the sheer amount of information that a social engineer can learn by doing simple searches,” says Matasano Security’s Goldsmith. “Attackers can find out who your business partners, vendors and clients are simply by viewing your shared connections.”

There’s simply no way for LinkedIn and other sites to validate a member’s employment record, so an attacker can claim to work at Matasano and find out which current and past employees are on the site. “Services like LinkedIn try to guard sensitive employment information by restricting it to colleagues–you have to have worked with Dave Goldsmith before to be able to click on him and see his work history, or have him come up in a search for ‘Matasano,'” says Matasano’s Ptacek. “But anyone can sign up to LinkedIn and claim to have worked for Matasano.”

I agree that there are potential problems, and that people can fake their identity, which is why I am an advocate of only connecting with people you know well, not just anyone who asks.

But is it just me, or is the Forbes article more than just a little paranoid? A lot of companies list their major partners and clients on their own web site. They make press releases when they close major deals with clients or partners. Most companies aren’t trying to keep that information secret. If you are, fine, then don’t join LinkedIn, or at least only connect with those you know well and don’t allow your network to browse your connectionis. But the Forbes article is in the small business resource section, and I know very few small businesses that would be better served by keeping that information private.

What’s particularly funny about the article, though, are a couple of blatant ironies.
For starters, as Chris Lake points out, Forbes has a few dangerous activities of its own, such as using full-page interstitial ads that don’t conform to the IAB guidelines (PDF).

forbes_linkedin.gifWhat’s even more ironic, though, is that Forbes has an official “ Entrepreneurs” group on LinkedIn – I should know, I’m a member!

Ahh… the irony! Here they are telling small business owners how dangerous using social networking sites is, while they have a group for entrepreneurs on LinkedIn. Especially ironic is that what the group membership allows you to do is see the profiles and contact directly any of the other members of the group, even if you don’t already know them — open networking based on the common interest or experience.

The bottom line is this: More Publicity = Less Privacy.
Our lives are full of risks. About the most dangerous activity you can undertake in the real world is getting in a car, yet billions of people do it every day without a second thought. Why? Because the weighted benefits far exceed the weighted risk, even though the risk is death. They take reasonable precautions to mitigate the risk: safety belts, airbags, safe driving habits, etc.

For most small business owners, the advantages of social networking so far outweigh the loss of privacy that it’s not even a consideration. Take reasonable precautions, such as those in Chapter 16 of The Virtual Handshake, but don’t let sensationalism and paranoia create a misplaced fear of something that has a very high potential benefit and a very low risk in reality.

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  1. Dear Mr. Allen,
    the world is funny,
    the business-world even more,
    but yet so transparent…
    It somehow reminds me on the German “Bild-Zeitung” – the leading “news”paper of the german yellow press
    It is just manipulation on a very low level,
    but sometimes sooo funny…
    especially the headlines, eg. – when mr ratzinger was voted for pope in rome last year, the bild-zeitungs headline, just the day after election, was:

    The Forbes warning is another small gem in the crown of irony.

    Thank`s for your article
    r.j. metschan

  2. Leaders of small companies might think twice about LinkedIn … I found my competitors ads placed alongside my own profile. I don’t know what others are seeing. But it occurred to me that I’m helping to build a professional network so that LinkedIn can build their own advertising platform (duh!), and this fact places us smaller companies at a disadvantage… especially if your company is not willing to fork out the “as little as ten dollars a day” advertising rate.

    • I hear what you’re saying, Eric, but for me, the benefits FAR outweigh the risks. I would contend that if your profile isn’t stronger than that competitor’s dinky little 3-line ad, then you need to put a little more work into your profile. More generally, if your business doesn’t stand up favorably against the competition, there are bigger issues to be concerned about. I welcome the competition — I’ll go head-to-head against anybody. I won’t win every time, but the ones I do win with are the right customers for me. Bring it on! 🙂

  3. Well, you may be right, but also, you don’t know what the risks will be in the future. For many, I’m sure this is no problem, yet each day I see LinkedIn asking for ever more personal information, and I hardly see how metrics such as my birthday, etc, are going to change the status of my professional standing. Most of my employees on LinkedIn do not use our company email, but instead use their private email. This is good for them, as they can enhance their careers very easily since our company reputation for training new engineers is very good. But again, this exposes our good employees to our competitors, and my main point is again highlighted, that is, those with more money will have the advantage. Furthermore, I have yet to gain a single sale so far through this forum, and no, I am not intimidated by my competitors ads within my profile…I am not happy with the loss of control of my personnel metrics, the networks I form, and information it provides to others. I think I’ll work with other forms of social networking, ones that we have better control. And sure, I know your response,…the world is changing, there is nothing I can do to stop it, and you’d be right, but that doesn’t neccesarily make it better.

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