Monday, August 20, 2007

Protecting your privacy on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

I read a lot of technical newsletters and blogs, among them TechRepublic. A quick scan of the my inbox revealed an article concerning identity theft on social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (all of which I have a presence).

Now its no secret that I don't personally identify myself, and I have my reasons, but I never understood why so many people give away so much detail about themselves.

Consider this article from TechRepublic (which linked from an Information Week piece) about a bogus friend on FaceBook:

[The] researchers created a profile on Facebook for a small plastic frog they named Freddi Staur, which is an anagram of “ID fraudster.” Divulging only a small amount of information about himself, “Freddi” sent out 200 requests to a wide variety of other Facebook users, asking them to join the frog’s friend list.

To round-up the results of the 200 contacted, 87 responded and agreed to be friends (To a frog?!)
  • 82% gave “Freddi” an open view of their profiles

  • 72% divulged at least one of their e-mail addresses

  • 84% gave up their date of birth

  • 87% offered details about the location/name of their school or work

  • 78% gave their current address

Now to some people, these stats mean little, but I am a little shocked at the idea of giving away DOB and current address.

I used to avoid social networks - in particular MySpace - because of the way users could amass tens of thousands of friends, but I am careful to vet the people I accept into my network. Particularly in LinkedIn, the theory of networking with people you know can have positive results down the line (either finding people to fill a job, or - eek - if I ever need to find one again). But you have to wonder about people who willingly accept invitations to link to a guy named Richard Cranium1... whose profile includes

Exploring the possibilities, potential, weaknesses, strengths, assumptions and
opportunities of viral, internet, social and remote networking.

More is the pity: 2 of Dick's contacts are people I personally know and have worked along side. I'm off to send some e-mail...

Moral of the post: keep tabs on who you let join your network, and what those people can learn about you!

1 If you can't see the euphemism in Richard Cranium, have another cup of coffee and try again.

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