Are You Giving Away Your Identity Online?

Most parents teach their children not to talk to strangers and certainly not to give them any personal information about them.  But the way most of us use social media allows perfect strangers to know more about us than we would ever want a stranger on the street to know.  The world is more interconnected than ever before and information flows freely.  And once a piece of information about your life is on the internet, it can be next to impossible to ever get it back.

You may be surprised to know how many different companies are collecting information about you.  Even services like Netflix are analyzing what kind of movies you like to watch so they can predict what sort of movies you would like to see in the future.  Recently, Netflix had to postpone its efforts to have another contest to allow analysts to use statistics and their data to predict what Netflix users wanted to see next.  The FTC raised some serious concerns and the program was canceled because of the obvious risks this can present.  After all.  any identifiers like movie watching habits can help to expose your true identity and much more information than whether or not you like romantic comedies.

A team of researchers were also able to look at hundreds of Twitter accounts that had no names or any other identifying characteristics, and 30% of the time they could identify the person just by the specific tweets that were named, sometimes giving away locations, habits, and behavior.  You might think you are just tweeting about a great sandwich you just ate, but identity thieves are looking for any identifying information that they can use to hack into your personal life and use it for themselves.

But it’s not always your fault that your information is out there.  Even if you strip your Facebook account of your birthday, phone number, and location, your friends may give this information away with different postings on your wall.  They may wish you a happy birthday or even talk about your job, giving away your place of employment.  If a crook is spying on your Facebook page he or she will be picking up on all of this information to paint a picture of your ID.  Studies have shown that even social security numbers can be figured out by the information that many people leave on their Facebook pages.

So how do you know if you are giving away your identity online?  Any personal information that you make public is fair game to the world of the internet.  Only reveal personal and identifying information in the private areas of your social networking website or don’t do it at all.  And if your friends and family are openly and unintentionally giving away your private information online, you can either ask them to stop or you might need to shut down your profile for a while.

But you should realize that any information you reveal about yourself online has the potential to fall into the wrong hands.  Company’s sites are getting hacked all the time, so don’t just trust that your data is safe.  Identity thieves are fairly lazy, and they are only going to go after the identities of people who make their information easy to find.  By just being cautious with your info online, you can minimize your risk and let the bad guys go after the easy prey instead of you.

John is a writer for a site that allows users to compare identity theft protection services and find which is right for them, like with articles on Lifelock reviews and other companies.