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Fear of sharing too much

July 31, 2009

The Internet has always been a scary place. I remember back in the days of the early business web, where clients were offering to sell their wares online, and the people feared ‘losing their credit card’ numbers to nefarious hackers.

It was legitimate. There were indeed hackers looking for credit cards out there. But I always thought the fear was misplaced.

Then there was the fear of people stealing your identity. That’s a legitimate fear as well. As this blog posts, creepily called “Why I Know A Lot About You, Brian” shows, one can find out a lot about someone just from Facebook.

There are legitimate reasons to be wary of the things one shares online. But if Mark Zuckerburg is right, and each year we’ll share twice as much information online as we did last year, it’s worth taking a moment to think hard about the things we share.

Lets start with credit cards.

I have a thing called shop safe for my online purchases. Shop safe lets me create a unique credit card number with a monetary limit on it. Thus, if the thing I’m buying is $40, I create a number that only has $40 in it. It’s not worth stealing.

And yet, when I go to a restaurant, I hand over my real number to people all the time.

So lets analyze, for a second, the two situations.

The person I’m protecting myself from in the online world has to be very technically efficient. Most people can’t steal credit card numbers online, it takes someone really talented to do that. Presumably, if they are talented, they make some good scratch and can’t be bothered with the few thousand one could get from the average credit card.

On the flip side, I willingly hand over my credit card numbers to minimum wage workers. Now, please understand that I’m not suggesting that minimum wage restaurant staff are out there stealing credit cards. What I am saying is that I take precautions to protect my credit card number from hackers, and yet take none in the real world to protect it from people who most-likely don’t make as much as the hackers.

Now for identity theft.

And before I start, lets look at the post from above. I’m not sure if Tod is able to get enough data from David to steal his identity. I think the answer is no, but I’m no expert. That said, I think it’s smart to not share your computer (or your iTunes), and it’s smart to not make friends with strangers on networks like Facebook. Twitter is a much better place to be friends. Then, after getting to know someone, add them to Facebook.

That said, one can find out a lot about me using Google as well. But can that turn into identity theft?

I think there’s a bigger fear of identity theft coming from someone stealing your garbage. Again, I think the real world threat is real, and the online world threat is over-stated.

It doesn’t take any technical know-how to steal garbage. None. Most people are in the phone book, and a quick google search of them will see where they work. Another quick Google search of job titles  will give salary benchmarks letting one could determine an identity is worth stealing.

Again, should any of this stop you from sharing? No. But this kind of stuff should give you a little pause. Be smart about associations. Be wary about the things you tell strangers. Keep Facebook for friends, and other, less rich in data places for meeting new people.

Be smart. Share with friends.

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