Watching some morning television today – my excuse, still recuperating – I was somewhat irritated by the level of a discussion about Facebook. One panelist earned the jibe “showing your age” for expressing some hesitation about putting personal details on Facebook. You can choose who gets access to your information, he was told.

Well, yes and no.

Keith Shaw’s post a couple of days ago on DEMOLetter, Why are we still giving up our identities so easily? should surely give all but the most fanatical Facebookers pause on the “you can choose” theme.

He reports on a test of Facebook by the Sophos security outfit, via the made-up identity, Freddi Stauer (an anagram of ID Fraudster). The study showed that:

  • people are apparently keen to be “friended” not just by people they don’t know but by people who don’t even exist
  • people make a lot of information readily available

There is a list of the details provided by a significant number of Freddi’s new friends, including:

  • 87% provided details about their education or work
  • 78% listed their current address or location

Now if Freddi was in fact a burglar and his new friend put some info on Facebook, as you do, about say going for a holiday, wouldn’t that be interesting?

But wait, there’s more!

…Sophos said in most cases, Freddi got access to respondents’ photos of friends and family, information about personal likes and dislikes, and details about employers.

If the Sophos study did nothing else, it should dispel the notion that concerns about privacy, whether on Facebook or any social networking site, can be dismissed as trivial.

I admit that I should not have expected daytime television to be providing high level content and analysis. But I do think that issues about personal identity online are becoming more rather than less serious.

And I believe that, in practice, rather than in theory, people can be making too much information available, or information available to the wrong people, without quite realizing what they are doing.

I choose to make information about me available online, for business purposes. But I do what I can to manage the process. There is still a degree of choice about how much information we provide and with what safeguards.

A couple of weeks ago, on Business and Blogging I wrote a short, two part series on managing our digital identities – Part 1 looked at the general challenge and Part 2 looked at the Zoominfo search engine. At the time of writing I thought I had managed to get Zoominfo to consolidate the various “identities” they had listed for me, but when I checked today there was still one “floating”, from a now unfindable link on a fellow-coach’s site. Hopefully that entry will be merged soon with the basic listing, but it reminded me that this is something to keep tabs on.

The DEMOLetter post also draws attention to an article about a new people search engine Spock.com which has the modest aim of indexing all the world’s six billion people. Apparently that doesn’t present any problems for the company under US law.

So is managing the process, as I am recommending we do to the best of our ability, of any real use i the long run?

Is resistance futile?

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