Safety net

Safety net

Sitting in a café, you would normally resist the advances of an unknown person or perhaps think twice before making a move on someone. All of us like the comfort of being introduced to someone through a common acquaintance in real life. Why, then, are we more reckless about it in an online world? Blaming the medium for a bad ‘contact’ is like blaming the café for attracting bad apples. While that may be true to some extent in both instances, we don’t go looking for the bad ones in real life, do we? “I have at times added unknown people to make new friends, but I’ve now stopped this practice," says Rahul Surkund, 37, who heads a PR agency in Pune. “It’s been a boon for me personally, as I have been able to connect with friends whom I have met after 20 years. It is safe if one is careful. Indeed, at times I have got unsolicited scraps, but then that’s part of the game," he adds.

On Orkut, even your photo gallery and profile details are accessible by strangersThe recent events surrounding the kidnap and murder of Mumbai teenager Adnan Patrawala, by people he had befriended on Orkut, has attracted a slew of reactions. This isn’t the first such event involving the site and that makes it even murkier. While some want the site to shut down, many others are not sure how to deal with it. But is it right to blame the Internet for all the ills? “I use these sites to catch up with friends, but it can be an unsafe place. Anyone can read what I am writing on Orkut and I think this is unsafe," says Bhavik Shah, a 23-year-old designer and IT professional from Mumbai.

If in real life we don’t mind putting up a protective wall around us in choosing our friends, why are these walls feebler online? Especially when there is the option of strengthening the wall. While Orkut may not offer as many security measures as some other sites, it is definitely possible to decline friendship requests from strangers. In fact, a recent survey by an IT security firm, Sophos, revealed that more than 40% of users on the popular networking site, Facebook, have no qualms about adding people they don’t know to their friend list. “Yes, I have added a few people I don’t know to my friends’ list, but I will now reconsider and be more careful about this," says Rohit Hardikar, a 27-year-old Mumbai-based IT professional. We decided to check out five popular services and rate them.

Orkut (2/5)

By far the most popular of all social networking sites in India, Orkut has a massive user base. This, of course, also attracts unwanted elements. Like with the real world, it is up to the user to befriend unwanted elements or stay away. And more often than not, it’s a judgement call similar to the one you would make in the offline world.

In terms of security measures, Orkut has a long way to go. Visitors can see your entire profile and the only option in privacy settings is whether you want to see visitors who have been to your page or not. Even those who aren’t on your friends’ list can leave you ‘scraps’ (messages) and stalk you.

While there is an option of differentiating your friends into ‘levels’, these only help you sort out your contact list on the basis of how much you know someone. But the fact remains that everybody can see all the details you entered on your profile.

In the case of Orkut, it is best if you, as a user, did not “put yourself out there". The unfortunate part is that you can send a message (private one, not on the scrapbook) to someone you don’t know. Even your photo galleries and profile information are not off limits.

Yes, the profile does allow you to set levels of accessibility whereby you can hold back your email address and contact details, but with the scrapbook and private message function available to the world, that doesn’t amount to much. “Orkut should not be an open network where everyone can see all that you have to say. It should be more like Facebook, where there is better security," says Shah.

It is even more ironic that the site was voted as a youth icon around the same time when the the inbuilt security lapses were being highlighted (especially for the youth) yet again.

Facebook (4/5)

Slowly gaining ground in India, Facebook offers far better and stricter privacy controls compared to most other sites. You can create block lists, set levels of privacy for individuals and allow some to see nothing but your name. You can even define that only your friends may leave you messages. While this may not be foolproof, it is certainly much better than the features Orkut offers.

Fropper (3.5/5)

One of the many new Indian sites that is fast gaining popularity, Fropper, too, is impressive in its security offering. Your data can be restricted for viewing by your friends or favourites only, keeping the riff-raff out.

Unexpected, but it is definitely welcome! The same levels of security also extend to the public and private blogs with the latter having a number of additional security features.

BigAdda (2/5)

Another popular site these days, but a closer look reveals a definite lack of security for protecting personal information. It follows the Orkut path and allows just about everyone to see your information and even communicate with you. This means that there would be instances where the unwanted would get in touch and then it becomes a question of self-reliance and judgement on how to keep them out.

Pownce (3/5)

To be launched soon, Pownce is a brainchild of the founders of A lot like other social networking sites, where you share information with your friends and keep in touch with your network, it is also peppered with many Twitter-like features. Again, it is up to you to choose your list of friends. But yes, there is no ‘foolproof’ method to stop strangers from dropping a message into your inbox.