The Very Real Perils of Rich Kids on Social Networks

Photograph by John Nordell

Zachary Dell, the teenage son of PC magnate Michael Dell, earned his 15 minutes of Internet fame this week. He appeared on a Tumblr site called the Rich Kids of Instragram in a photo posted by his older sister Alexa. There Zachary sat on the family jet, devouring a Ritz-worthy buffet on his way to Fiji. (Update: Looks like someone took the photo down.)

Anyone with a bit of curiosity could see that Alexa had posted the picture on Instagram and pointed to it via her Twitter account. On that same Twitter account, Alexa happily detailed her every move, including the exact days she would arrive in, say, New York, and where she was shopping. She also put up such things as her high school graduation dinner invitation that foretold where (time, date, location) Michael Dell and his wife would be in a couple of weeks’ time.

Michael Dell pays about $2.7 million a year for the security protection of his family, according to Dell regulatory filings. And so you can imagine how pleased he must have been to see his children’s jaunt to Fiji detailed on a catchy website and his daughter providing an online diary of her life, replete with GPS locations dished out by her cell phone.

As of this writing, Alexa’s Twitter account has been shut down. Was it because of security concerns? Dell officials won’t say. “We don’t make any comments regarding Mr. Dell’s, or his family’s, personal activities,” says a company spokesman.

Jason Thorsett, the director of operations at bodyguard firm Custom Protective Services, reckons that Michael Dell’s security detail must have gone nuts when they saw what the billionaire’s kids were doing online. “I’m sure they called the dad and shut it down,” he says. “It’s innocent on the kids’ behalf, but social networking has become the bane of our existence. They undo a lot of hard work on Facebook and Twitter.”

Thorsett notes that kidnapping concerns are first and foremost but that the social networking posts can lead to all kinds of issues. (If Dell’s security detail was concerned about social networking, they would seem to have been a bit behind the times, because Alexa had been detailing family activities for quite a while.) According to Thorsett, the personal security industry has struggled to keep up with the rise of social networking. Former CIA and Secret Service agents were not trained in the art of snooping Instagram. “There are folks whose learning curve stopped, and they’re not up to date on these threats,” Thorsett says.

Security pros for big-name clients like Michael Dell have long read the physical mail that arrives at the office and home. Now they’re being asked to check Google a few times a day as well. “Twitter is the worst because it’s so instantaneous,” Thorsett says. “You get that GPS location of exactly where you are. It’s just insane.”

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