Monday, August 31, 2009

Facebook Et Al

I was stuck in the dentist's chair and he had the radio on. I was focusing on the program trying to ignore what was being done to me, and I actually got interested. The person on air was speaking about Facebook. She agreed that there can be some advantages to such a large social connection. But she focused on a problem, one that some police departments have begun discussing.

Unlike blogs, where clear factual details about a person's life may not be present, on Facebook there is a lot of precise, clear identifying material. Birth dates, maiden names, addresses, phone numbers--all these are in evidence on various Facebook pages. In addition, people talk about what they are doing on any given day in minute detail. So what's the problem?

You are going away on vacation for a week. You say so on Facebook, the same Facebook on which your name, your husband's/wife's name, your address or other clear location information is given. Or you plan on spending the day away from home, something you also mention on Facebook. Or you lay out your work schedule. Today's criminals have been mining a lot of personal information from sites like Facebook. And a lot of that information is an "Open Sesame" for people who are looking to break into unoccupied houses. Police around the country already have records of thieves who broke in to homes based on their knowledge of the occupants' whereabouts, information they got from social networking sites.

That radio program gave me some material to chew on. Even before the social networking sites came into existence, there was a lot of personal information that could be gotten from the Internet. The networking sites have added just the kind of information that criminals are on the lookout for. And it's not just breaking and entering that is on the uptick. Identity theft has become a major problem.

I'm not saying don't be on Facebook or the other social networking sites: I am saying be careful. Those are not "secure" sites. You have no way of knowing just who is looking at your personal information and what they will do with it. While we celebrate the "blessings" of the various electronic communication avenues, we also need to think of the possible side effects.


Orthonomics said...

I would recommend that anyone who displays a birthday, take off that information, at the very least. The harder problem is maiden names.

There are security settings on social networking sites. I say, use them.

Tamar said...

Also an excellent reason to have a very serious talk with teenagers about Face Book. They are supposed to be much savvier than us about online. They are also a lot more trusting or naive. And they also know that my husband and I are likely to go and see what is on their pages--house rule.

It's not that they don't get any privacy. It's that Face Book is NOT private the way they think it is, even with all the security they supposedly give you.

Anonymous said...

I do not have my maiden name, address or phone number on my profile. In addition, it is private so only my friends can see it. I guess if people were hackers they could get the information on my page, but otherwise, it is hidden.