…you have poor digital hygiene, Janet.

Full disclosure, I’m plagiarizing this idea (with permission) from my boss. He’s the one who brought the serious downside of uploading my contacts to social media apps and websites to my attention with a slow shake of his head and a dismissive, “you have poor digital hygiene, Janet” before walking away with one of those “kid’s today” expressions. Here’s the problem. I pride myself on being very cognizant of personal exposure online, knowing full well how detrimental it can be to leave digital footprints, which have a knack for showing up at the absolute worst time and when you least expect it.

Here's an example of Bizshark monetizing someone's Contacts for profit
One of the reasons I scored my current job was the fact that I wasn’t on Facebook. Yes, you heard that right. I’m a millennial who’s not on Facebook. I made that decision upon seeing, first hand, how cruel social media can be by witnessing the slow destruction of a childhood friend who made several (thankfully unsuccessful) suicide attempts due to vicious cyber-bullying. Sure, I’m not as dialed in socially as some of my friends, but since everyone knows I’m not on fb, they clue me in to bands, outings, parties and other things I would be interested in. It works better than expected – they’ve become my human filters, weeding out all the dumb cat videos, plates of food and pictures of kids that soak up your time like one of those Dyson vacuums, which can inhale a small child if you’re not careful.

Thankfully, the person interviewing me (my future boss) completely understood. When often asked why he isn’t on XYZ social media, he scoffs, “I’m not interested in making my life open source” (a reference to free “open” source software, which anyone can use and modify). This is not to say I’m against social media; I’m currently active on Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and other platforms where I can limit general public exposure, and I post enriching content on Facebook all the time for several of our clients. But even with all this experience and knowledge, I was considering, for a brief moment, of uploading my contacts to Alignable, a business-oriented social media site, when I first joined. It seems harmless at first, but there is a dark side to doing so.

…once you upload your contact list to a third party, you lose all control of it.

First and foremost, once you upload your contact list to a third party, you lose all control of it. My boss pointed this out to me when he discovered “Private Investigator” sites such as Spokeo, Peropo, TruthFinder, BeenVerified, and so on, are using people’s uploaded contacts for data mining and cross-referencing. Worse, each data field, from the name, address, zip code, cell phone number, etc. is being “parted out” and sold off to slimy telemarketers, direct marketing companies, and other nefarious entities. Ever wonder how you’re getting robocalls on your cell phone (Hello! PAUSE Oh Hi! I’m sorry I had to adjust my headset…), even though you’re on the worthless Do Not Call list, there’s a good chance your data was sold off by an unscrupulous company who’s trafficking in uploaded contacts. Now Alignable, LinkedIn and other entities will emphatically state that they don’t sell your information, but I don’t buy it. Just look at Alignable who employs a third party to handle contact upload – somewhere along the line, there’s going to be a leak. Just remember, when you’re using something for free online, you’re the product being sold.
Just remember, when you’re using something for free online, you’re the product being sold.

Now think about this: would you want one of your peers who has your contact information uploading his contacts to a third party? Your email, your physical address, your cell phone number, your social media accounts, your birthday…all your personal information now in the hands of a third party? Some would say this is the on-ramp to identity theft. If I’m responsible for someone’s personal information, shouldn’t I give serious consideration about giving it away to some company I don’t even know? And then what happens? They carpet bomb my contacts that I’m now on XYZ social media site to see if they want to join because I GAVE them permission(!) Lose-Lose.

Now I understand some may say I’m being paranoid, or overly righteous, or whatever, but when the ramification of this action is far-reaching and long-lasting, I don’t think it’s something I should be so cavalier about. Thus, when LinkedIn, Alignable, or anyone else, asks you to upload your contacts, you may want to think twice. I have and I’m feeling a lot healthier, digitally that is.