Leaving a Facebook profile public could lead to identity theft among students.
At any given moment, a person’s Facebook profile is likely to be filled with the seemingly pointless pictures of family gatherings, posts about pets and birthday congratulations.
The 2010 Social Network Fraud Survey, released by research company Harris Interactive, shows that despite numerous privacy options provided by Facebook, more than 24 million Americans are most likely to leave critical information open to public view. People ages 18 to 34 were said to be more inclined to keep their profiles public.
Things like the names of pets and relatives and birthdays are common security questions for password-protected websites and may allow identity thieves to break into accounts.
Thomas Oscherwitz, the vice president of government affairs and chief privacy officer for ID Analytics, a consumer risk research firm, said leaving information public – no matter how trivial – could be considered a risk.
“Users need to remember that the same information they are posting online is often used for security or challenge questions when they log into financial or other online accounts to verify their identity,” Oscherwitz said. “The average Facebook user has over 100 friends, and some users have thousands. Many people do not know all of their online ‘friends’ well.”
“Younger people, college age, are statistically more likely to keep their profiles public,” Oscherwitz added.
Oscherwitz recommended releasing the minimum amount of information required by the site. He said many people over-share because they often feel the more information they share, the more useful connections they will make.
The study also revealed a gender gap in what people decide to share online. Twenty-eight percent of men and 15 percent of women are estimated to have their profiles public. Men were said to disclose their full addresses and post pictures of their car; women were prone to share their pets’ names – all of which are common security questions.
Zaina Sesay, a sophomore film and business major, said her profile is hidden from public scrutiny. She said she believes people are responsible for their own online privacy.
“Profiles are only as detailed as you want them to be,” Sesay said. “The closest thing to my exact location that can be found on my profile is my school. Anything else that stalkers and strangers may discover is through direct contact with myself, close friends and family.”
On the other hand, Chino Onwuka, a senior biology major, said he thinks people should be able to share as much information as they like but said some things just don’t belong in an easily accessible domain.
“It’s America. If we want to show the world our life through Facebook that should not be a problem,” Onwuka said. “The problem arises when an individual starts putting information that has no business on the Web.”
Priscilla Ward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.