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Are You Sharing Too Much Information Online?

These days, we share more and more personal details about ourselves online. Are you sharing too much private information? And, the even bigger question: is what you share putting your privacy at risk?

According to statistics from a recent industry study, the answer to both of those questions is a resounding yes; more and more people are using social networking sites, and the majority are posting risky information online, without enough thought to privacy and security — ultimately exposing themselves to threats like identity theft.

According to Consumer Reports' 2010 State of the Net analysis, a survey of 2,000 online households, the amount of people using social networking sites has nearly doubled since the previous year's findings, while more than half of social network users share private information about themselves online, opening themselves up to a variety of online dangers, including identity theft. The key findings of the report include the following:

  • About 25 percent of households with a Facebook account don't use the site's privacy controls or were not aware of them.
  • 40 percent of social network users posted their full date of birth online, opening themselves up to identity theft.
  • Nine percent of social network users dealt with a form of abuse within the past year — like malware, online scams, identity theft or harassment

While the Web and popular networking sites allow people to be more social — to easily share information with others — at the same time, it's also easier for cyber criminals to learn more about potential victims, and to use these sites as a vector for for various kinds of bad online behavior. In fact, reports of malware and spam rose 70 percent on social networks in 2009, according to an industry report from security firm Sophos.1

“Social networking sites are meant to get as many users in one place as possible on one platform, and for attackers there's a lot of return-on-investment in going after them,” said security analyst Shawn Moyer in a recent CSO article, describing the climate as a perfect storm of social engineering and bad programming.2

One popular site to taking heat recently over its attitude towards users' privacy and security is Facebook; criticism has been prompted by changes to the networking site's privacy settings in mid April. There has been so much concern, that the privacy debate on Facebook has even caught the attention of legislators. United States government officials, as well as privacy groups, have criticized Facebook for not doing enough to protect the privacy of its users, and have called on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to protect consumers of social networking sites. The FTC has been asked to examine privacy issues on Facebook, as well as to issue privacy guidelines in order to guarantee that social media companies protect user privacy.3

Time will tell what types of privacy strategies, guidelines, or changes may ensue. In the meantime, take a look at tips from Lavasoft on the steps you should be taking to control your privacy on social networking sites.

1http://www.networkworld.com/news/2010/020110-facebook-twitter-social-network-attacks.html?source=NWWNLE_nlt_daily_am_2010-02-02

2http://www.networkworld.com/news/2010/020310-social-media-risks-the.html?hpg1=bn

3http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/05/01/BUFG1D5QIS.DTL

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BY THE NUMBERS
According to a recent survey, about 25% of households with a Facebook account don't use the site's privacy controls or were not aware of them. About 40% of social network users posted their full date of birth online, opening themselves up to identity theft.
Source: Consumer Reports' State of the Net 2010
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