TMI: Your Privacy, Data, and the Internet

January 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm 4 comments

By Mary Ludloff

Personally, I don’t have a Facebook page. I do have a Twitter handle, but I never use it. When I comment on an article or blog post, I am very careful about what I say (you never know when something you “type” in the heat of the moment can come back to bite you and my rule also applies to Voicemail and Email but I digress). Of course, when it comes to my friends and family and “me,” I leave it up to them. However, I do ask them not to use my last name in posts, photo captions, etc. And they seem to honor my request.

Now, professionally, I can be found on LinkedIn (last name and all), on corporate management team pages, listed as a PR contact, and as a commenter and blog poster. If you google or bing me, you will discover that I was once a co-author of an SQL book and you will be able to find out a few other details about me that I do not like the world at large knowing. However, considering how much you could know about me, I consider myself lucky.

Here are some facts you may or may not be aware of, courtesy of ID Analytics’ 2010 Network Fraud survey:

  • About 21% of all social network users leave their profiles open for basically anyone to see. That’s 24 million people.
  • About 63% of those who use social networking sites list the schools they attended.
  • 70 million folks list their birthplace.
  • 20 million give out their pet’s name.

What’s the harm you might ask? Well, maybe each individual nugget is benign but keep in mind that all your “public” data that might contain personal information about you can be scraped (otherwise known as web scraping), aggregated, and used to develop a fuller profile of you than you ever imagined.

Think you’re pretty savvy about protecting your identity? Take the My ID Score to assess your risk. I did. I also read thru their privacy and security policies pretty carefully (and I recommend that you do as well) to ensure that the information you enter is protected and what your opt-in choices are for all your data. They also tell you what websites you can visit that will help you proactively protect your identity. If you’re curious, my score was 315—low risk to identify theft.

And I was feeling pretty good about this UNTIL I discovered Spokeo.  Spokeo aggregates publicly available information about you from phone books, social networks, marketing surveys, real estate listings, business websites, and other public sources. When I entered my name, I was surprised at how much information was available (try it for yourself). And, to put it mildly, not happy about it.

My next reaction may surprise you: all this information publicly available about me? Good to know—we should all know what’s out there in the ether-Internet about us. Also, before you demonize Spokeo (believe me, I was heading in that direction), consider this: they have an opt-out policy that is quite simple. You can request that your listing be removed quite easily. I did and I was removed within seconds. That’s a good data privacy policy.

So my advice to you is to check yourself out, see what the web knows about you, and then take steps to protect your privacy. I plan on talking about data privacy issues in the next couple of posts. Some of the topics we’ll cover:

  • Why you need a personal data privacy policy and why you should pay careful attention to your opt-in and opt-out choices.
  • What PatternBuilders data privacy policy is—yes, we have one and we’re happy to share it with you.
  • Why you should care about anonymization—very hard to spell and almost harder to pronounce—as much as we do and the impact of the cloud on security models in general and on PatternBuilders specifically.

Until next time!

Entry filed under: Data. Tags: , , , , .

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