After a year of video conferencing, we’ve all heard the horror stories. From video filters you can’t turn off to having private conversations when you’re not muted to unintentionally flashing everyone in a work meeting, the tales are usually embarrassing and often a funny story for all involved when it’s over. While these video failures stick in our minds, there is another sharing disaster you might be making without even realizing it. Digital and physical items in your environment may be offering more personal information than you want to share.
Screen sharing, home offices, and photos shared online can contain private information that we’re exposing to our family, coworkers, and the world more than ever before. Taking the time to look beyond the focal item you share can save you from a lot of embarrassment—or worse. The last thing anyone wants is to lose a job over a browser tab.
Unintentional Zoom Exposure
Over the last year, Zoom has become the leader in unintentional sharing, though it’s hardly the only culprit. The biggest difference is that it’s brought these mishaps directly into the workplace, unlike social media and other platforms. A simple mishap with a cat filter might not do more than give everyone a good laugh, but when you accidently share proprietary, personal, or NSFW (Not Safe For Work) information in a video call, it could cost you or your company dearly.
When you work from home, your personal and professional life mixes in ways it didn’t before. What once was your desk for handling household matters now pulls double duty as your home office. While a naked spouse walking in the background may be among the worst accidents from this mixing of worlds, there are smaller faux pas that can occur without you realizing it.
Cat and potato filters aside, there are some important things to remember when sharing your digital information during a video call. These often result from sharing a screen or app without properly preparing what is visible before the meeting, such as
- browser tabs not being used for the meeting,
- a background not appropriate for the workplace, and
- notifications popping up.
While you’ve probably seen the stories of people showing NSFW tabs in their browsers, it’s not the only digital culprit. When screen sharing, it’s important to keep in mind everything the audience will see. Here are some tips for keeping your digital information private while screen sharing:
- Always close all applications and browser tabs not necessary for the meeting. If it’s not open, no one can see it.
- If you have icons visible on your desktop that may contain private or sensitive information, be sure to hide them before starting the call.
- Everyone loves to personalize their computer background, and at home that can be anything you want. But if you’re using your personal computer to make a screen-sharing call, consider if your background is appropriate for a work environment. If not, switch it out before the call begins.
- Turn off notification pop ups. They may be convenient to see what’s just come in without switching apps, but if proprietary or personal information pops up while you’re screen sharing, everyone else will see it too.
- Always share as little as possible. Whenever available, share only the application necessary for the call. The less of your screen others can see, the less you can accidently share.
It’s more than just you in that camera frame.
Now that you’ve got your digital world in order, look around at your physical world. It’s more than just you in that camera frame. It can be good to open your webcam application to find out what appears in the frame for others to see. Don’t forget to check what’s
- on the wall behind you,
- on the desk or table next to you, and
- what could come into frame.
Obvious things like decorations on the walls are easy to spot, but what about papers on your desk that could have sensitive or personal information on them? If it’s in the frame, it’s visible to others, and meeting attendees can screenshot a Zoom session or record it for playback later. If the Zoom meeting isn’t secured properly, uninvited guests could come in, and personal or company information lying around in frame could be exposed. Here are some tips for keeping your physical environment private while on camera:
- Remove any unnecessary or inappropriate items from your décor.
- Clear away all papers not related to the meeting.
- Keep your camera zoomed in and focused on you so little else appears in the frame.
- Stand up and move around to see what becomes visible.
- If you can’t remove items from the frame, use a virtual background to keep the entire room private.
A virtual background may be the best option for many in order to ensure they don’t miss something that others in the meeting shouldn’t see, but that doesn’t mean it’s a fool-proof solution. Software glitches or excessive movement could still expose your environment. Even with a virtual background, it’s safest to keep your visible environment clear in case things go wrong. And remember to make sure the virtual background is appropriate for the kind of meeting you’re participating in.
Social Media Posting Faux-Pas
Caution should always be taken before posting too much information about yourself, your personal life, or your job outside the workplace.The most recent examples of this are vaccination selfies, where individuals take pictures with their COVID-19 vaccination card. It’s a happy moment for many, but those cards also contain personal information such as your legal name and birthday. That kind of information can give ne’re-do-wells the means to steal your identity. If your profile is public, then there is no telling who will see everything you post. It’s always best to keep your profiles private unless you require a public profile for specific reasons, such as a business page or creating an online platform. If you wouldn’t want your posts seen by co-workers or clients, keep your account private. In our increasingly digital lives, it’s important to think about what we are sharing with the world. Take advantage of all the tools at your disposal to keep personal and public information separate, so you never have to end up one of the Zoom gaffes that go viral.