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Facebook SecurityI am writing this post because of an incident I came across. A friend of mine just had a birthday recently. As usual, she received the typical “Happy Birthday” greetings on her Facebook. Most everyone’s wishes were all standard, except for one. A well-wisher actually mentioned my friend’s age. This breach of privacy and Internet etiquette upset her. 

As we grow alongside the technology that we use and depend upon, we must do so with some caution and work to mitigate our online risks. Some people think that if someone wants to steal your identity — they can. I say, “don’t make it too easy for them.” I know that folks like Mark Zuckerberg encourage you to hand over so much information to Facebook and their marketing partners, but the question you have to ask yourself is why. “Well it’s just your age, who cares” you say. “Why are you so concerned about age, are you feeling old?” you ask. My friend’s actual age is not the issue, however, who knows her age IS her business.
Imagine for a moment if you will. You are searching for that new job that you’ve always wanted. You apply online and provide a copy of your resume. As a manager, I want to make the best choices for my company that I can. Before I even request an interview with a candidate, I will look them up online. I will look at their LinkedIn account, their Twitter account, Tumblr, and their Pinterest accounts if I can. I will look to see what kind of person they are and what kind of associations they have. Unfortunately, I may also see their age. Now, as we all know, age discrimination is illegal in the United States but it still happens. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 forbids , “fail[ing] or refus[ing] to hire or to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s age.” In spite of what the government declares, prejudices can be overt or subconscious, but it does exist. Perhaps that person seems too old or too young for consideration for employment. Or perhaps they have associations that I am not comfortable with. Silly, huh? Most savvy internet users know better now. The generation born just before the turn of the century, have a better sense of etiquette along with a very strong set of thumbs with an amazing sense of dexterity.

Internet etiquette requires that you ask permission of the people that you take pictures of. Many folks never post pictures of themselves on social media for security reasons or for personal reasons. It doesn’t matter; it is THEIR image, not yours. For example, say you take a picture of your girlfriend or boyfriend and post the pictures on FB. Then a few months later, your friend discovers that someone has appropriated their likeness and posted it to an adult site. How would you feel if that happened to you? Many years ago when the World Wide Web was relatively new, a friend of mine refused to have his picture of his face ever be taken, let alone posted anywhere. His reason was simply that someone had Photoshopped his head onto another person’s body and posted it. My friend was humiliated and vowed to never let it happen again. This is called portraying you in a false light. Another example is from a friend who didn’t know that her picture was taken when she had just woke up and hadn’t had any time to put on her make-up or any clothes. Her friend, also a girl, had taken this picture innocently enough, but later as she was showing her friends some photos of wedding dresses, other friends saw the photo of their friend and suddenly became a pariah to the clique. This example is called intrusion of solitude. Although this seems petty, it is unnecessary and in some cases criminal.

Many folks today post their hometown on Facebook so that they can find folks with similar backgrounds and ethnic culture. However, you just need to give a few pieces of information to a malicious individual and they can figure out your Social Security Number and impersonate you online. By a complex but not impossible set of procedures (which I will not mention – why make it easy), someone can determine your SS number. As each set of numbers mean something to the government, these numbers are standardized. The first three describes the state you were born in (up until 2011), while the second set determines which birth you were in that state (it is a code) while the last four digits are random. Well… There you go, randomness makes it safe. Well yes, but if one is determined enough there is a process that one can go through to eliminate numbers already used. The rest is a matter of pattern recognition and brute force work. In fact, the United States government allows businesses to verify Social Security Numbers. Both legal and illegal (with some additional legwork) forces can use the SSN validator  for their own means.

Having ones social security number allows people to become you in the commerce world. The U.S. Government says that 16.6 million people experienced identity theft in 2012.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • About 7% of persons age 16 or older were victims of identity theft in 2012.
  • The majority of identity theft incidents (85%) involved the fraudulent use of existing account information, such as credit card or bank account information.
  • Victims who had personal information used to open a new account or for other fraudulent purposes were more likely than victims of existing account fraud to experience financial, credit, and relationship problems and severe emotional distress.
  • About 14% of identity theft victims experienced out-of-pocket losses of $1 or more. Of these victims, about half suffered losses of less than $100.
  • Over half of identity theft victims who were able to resolve any associated problems did so in a day or less; among victims who had personal information used for fraudulent purposes, 29% spent a month or more resolving problems.

Summing up, be aware of what information you post of yourself, but also be considerate of others when you post their information or image on line. Check your Facebook privacy settings often, as they change them often without any notification. Be safe.

Sometimes too much information is dangerous, not enough can be deadly.