The teacher’s Facebook account was set to private. She was certain of that. Yet, in the past week, she had received four friend requests from former pupils. She could not work out how they had found her.
So, as I am a researcher at the Greater Manchester Police – and her friend – she asked me to take a look. Within 10 minutes, I had not just found her, but I also had her full name, her partner’s name, the school she worked at, the name of one of her children and multiple images of the street she lives on.
It was not hard. I used no tricks. It is highly likely that at least some of your pupils would be able to do the same thing. And I predict this will be an increasing problem over the next few years. As pupils are now being exposed to the internet at a young age, their knowledge of communications technology is often developing quicker than our own.
Also, schools are now offering advanced computer science classes, as well as extracurricular coding classes for pupils who have an interest in computers and technology. This is fantastic for our young people and will significantly improve their post-16 options, as the size of the technology sector increases. But it does mean they will know their way around the online world with considerable confidence.
Does this imply you should no longer have a social media account? Not at all. But setting your preferences to private should not be the limit of your security considerations.
Here are 10 tips to instantly improve the protection of your personal data.
1. Keep accounts separate
Separate personal and professional social media accounts and avoid linking them together. There should be no crossover between the two in terms of friends, posts, shared links (one retweeting the other) or connections. Create a barrier between the two that is watertight.
2. Vary usernames
Avoid using the same username across all your social media profiles. This makes your digital footprint significantly easier to find.
3. Check posts about you
Monitor what your family and friends post and tweet about you. They may not have the same level of security settings as you and could leave you vulnerable.
4. Beware of public posts
On Facebook, be very careful when it comes to any photo, post or location that you comment on, as that post may be public. Even with a fully secure account, a basic search can reveal any public information you have commented on.
5. Review privacy settings
Review your security and privacy settings on a regular basis. App updates can change certain settings that you will have to go back into and manually review. This includes facial-recognition software and location-based settings that are increasingly being developed and implemented on social platforms.
6. Don't follow your school account
If your school is on Instagram, avoid following your school's account with your personal profile. A simple scroll through the "followers" tab will reveal your profile to anybody who is looking.
7. Avoid using your real name
If you are using your real name, replace your surname with your middle name.
8. Change the friends-list setting
On Facebook, change your friends-list visibility to "Only me". If you have your colleagues as friends, you have inadvertently given away their profiles.
9. Switch off location
Keep your location settings turned off across all your social media platforms. Turn the location settings off on your mobile device unless you specifically need it.
10. Delete dormant accounts
Delete any dormant accounts that you no longer use. This includes any social media platforms that were once popular, but are no longer so well used. It's easy to forget about them, but have you considered what you used to post and share online?
Chris Glover is an intelligence researcher for Greater Manchester Police and a former PE teacher