Students overshare on social media

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

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


  1. This article adresses a serious issue, and I agree, people won’t stop posting comments that might be private by accident or on purpose which might have a negative effect on said person. This is why I strongly believe that either Facebook changes their privacy settings and privacy policy before its too late, and other companies such as MyCube or diaspora take over. Personally, I actually wouldn’t mind them taking over, because then I at least have a guarantee for a private social network.

  2. i agree, this is a serious issue because over sharing is only fine if the medium is secure. in this case, facebook misuses our information and this could be a potential threat to students. students should use diaspora and mycube which would harm them even if they do over share. lets hope that these sites can make social networking secure again

  3. While I agree that people share way too much on Social Media websites, like Facebook, it would be nice if a more alarming trend were spotlighted in this article that is directly related.

    Why are all these websites (from financial institutions to university student logins to Joe Schmoe retail shop) collecting what they are claiming to be “security questions”. THEY DO NOT ADD SECURITY! As a security professional, and regularly speaking with other information security professionals, we are constantly expressing grievances about this ridiculous notion that having a website collect public information about you (regardless of whether you posted it on Facebook, MUCH of the information is public) as a means to circumvent more traditional and secure means.

    The real reason is obvious… having a user answer a special question to be able to reset a forgotten password reduces their call center costs GREATLY (number one issue for most website call centers is forgotten passwords). However, despite their financial reasons, what they and even this article is calling “security questions” are NOT about security. They REDUCE security.

    Sure… people are posting far too much info about themselves online. But the problem isn’t that they are disclosing personal information. It’s that this information (again, most of which can be found out anyway for someone who WANTS to find out) is being used as a circumvention of actual security controls.

    Also… note that you also end up with multiple websites with the same answers to questions.. so knowing this information could gain access to many accounts, because multiple websites use the same question/answer to bypass the password (or changing it, etc.)

    When I see supposed “security questions”, I generate random garbage, and then track it with a password program (encrypted collection of passwords). That way the thing needed will not exist in any database, not be on any social website, and not be something a private investigator could VERY easily obtain anyway. But then again, I remember my passwords the same way, so those security questions aren’t needed.

    Anyway… to me, a much bigger story is the huge security problem that this trend of having more and more websites gathering common infomation about you as a means to bypass real security.

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