If a stranger stopped you on the street and requested your e-mail address and birthdate, would you give it to that person? A rational person would never give up this information.
This is the same guard you should have when giving out your personal information to set up an online account, setting up a social account or to get some bargain or great deal on a product or service. Most people will give up all their data for 10% off at a shoe store.
Many people blindly give out personal information online or in person to get that bargain. Sometimes, these choices are made by people who claim to value their privacy.
Those same people may not know that every time you log into free unencrypted WiFi you are most likely revealing everything you communicate on a PC, laptop or mobile? This is why an encrypted connection like one provided with Hotspot Shield is very necessary.
A study from Carnegie Mellon University, conducted by Alessandro Acquisti, turned up some very interesting results.
He sent some graduate students to a shopping mall near Pittsburgh. The students were instructed to offer a $10 discount card, with an extra $2 discount to shoppers in exchange for their shopping information. Half turned down the extra offer. The $2 wasn’t enough to get them to reveal their shopping cart items.
Another group of shoppers was offered a $12 discount and the choice to exchange it for $10 if they desired to keep their shopping data private. Ninety percent decided to keep the $12 discount, which meant they were willing to reveal their shopping data.
It looks as though if people already have ownership of private data from the get-go, they’re more likely to value it. If it’s yet to be acquired, however, the value placed on it is less.
So getting back to cyber space then, have you ever wondered if the data, that the online advertising industry collects on you, is truly scrambled so that it’s not possible to identify individuals?
Acquisti conducted another experiment. With a webcam he took snapshots of about 100 campus students. It took only minutes for him to identify about 30 percent of these nameless students by using facial recognition software.
He then went a step further and gathered enough information on about a quarter of the identified students via Facebook to guess a portion of their Social Security numbers.
Acquisti showed how simple it is to identify people from scratch because they leave a data trail in cyber space—and this includes photos. This shows how easy it is for criminals to use Facebook to steal a person’s identity.
Though it would violate Facebook’s terms of service to register a fake birthdate, the user needs to be aware of the tradeoff: Identity thieves love to find birthdates.
Facebook says that the user can control who sees personal information. So you just have to weigh the pros and cons. Is receiving well wishes on your birthday worth the risk of a thief using your basic information to steal your identity?
And by the way, thieves can use your Facebook profile photo to help steal your identity. Maybe this is why some people use their baby’s or dog’s photo for their Facebook photo?
Robert Siciliano is an Identity Theft Expert to Hotspot Shield. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen See him discussing internet and wireless security on Good Morning America. Disclosures.