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What information are you sharing?

January 5, 2011

Update: read this article in ad age for more perspective on how we over share.

I want to draw your attention to three separate but related things:

1. This article from the WSJ suggests you’re making it easy for people to steal your money or identity.

“The information consumers willingly, and oftentimes unwittingly, unleash on social-media websites sets off a feeding frenzy among fraudsters looking to steal everything from your flat-screen TV to your identity.”

The article goes on to talk about how we’re over sharing in general. It’s a decent read, although there’s nothing really new there.

2. Next is a podcast from the BBC called Digital Planet. It’s a nice little podcast that talks about techie stuff. If you have a commute I highly recommend it. Anyway, the podcast is about inadvertent sharing.

“When we post photos to social networking sites like Facebook and Flickr our intention is usually to share them with friends – but are we revealing more than we realise? Jon Kleinberg, Professor in the Computer Science Department at Cornell University, explains how sharing seemingly small amounts of personal information online can lead to significant losses in privacy.”

It goes like this: when people take a photo of a monument, they often call or tag the photo with the name of the monument. For the sake of argument, lets say the monument is Stonehenge. I take a picture of Stonehenge and uploaded it to Flickr. So does my wife. Six months later, we both upload pictures of The Washington Monument. Three months later, we both upload pictures of Niagara Falls. Every time we upload, our camera records the time of the image. Professor Kleinberg sorts through the data looking for patterns in photo taking.

Professor Kleinberg can tell that my wife and I are in the same social circle.

Big deal? Or not a big deal? The point is this is data that inadvertently gets out because the systems are open.

3. Think about location-based social networks like FourSquare, Gowalla, Facebook places, Yelp, etc.

Those actively and publicly let people know where a person is, and who their friends are.

“The issue with location-based information is that it exposes another layer of personal information that, frankly, we haven’t had to think much about: our exact physical location at anytime, anywhere. If you’re comfortable being a human homing beacon, that’s fine, we just want you to be fully aware of what that means and the potential risks it might involve.”

The quote above comes from the people who started, a site that took FourSquare checkins (public) and suggested these people could be robbed. Your FourSquare username might be a few Google searches from your physical address.

Social media allows people to post anything at anytime from an increasing number of devices.

But where are the limits?

Should we post about having a bad day?

Should we post about having a bad experience with a brand?

Should we post that we’re at home, or not at home?

We live in what’s increasingly an open-source world of data. With a simple Google search, people can find data about you — assuming like the rest of the world you are sharing data on social networks. I’m not saying sharing a bad thing, but it certainly is a new thing to live in an open-source world.

We are not used to thinking about the implications of sharing our data. 10 years ago, the most intrusive data collecting device around consumer behavior might have been the credit card.

But that data was part of a closed system.

In an era of QR codes, FourSquare offers and Facebook posts, data is open and searchable. Our behaviors can be tracked because we opt in to open data systems.

Again, this isn’t meant to be an alarm. The point of all three things is that in the end, we’re responsible for what we put out there.

So be smart.

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