By Thalib Razi
Unlike many students at this school, junior Amy Lovell expected few messages on her Facebook wall wishing her a happy birthday earlier this month. The only personal information on her Facebook profile page is her name and her e-mail address.
“It’s sort of precautionary,” Lovell said. “‘It’s secure,’ (websites) say. ‘We promise we won’t share your information with anyone.’ But there’s always some way to get that information once it’s out th
While students have control over what personal information they choose to include on the profile pages of their social networking sites, they may not have control about what companies and criminals can deduce based on that information.
According to Nabeel Yoosuf, a computer science major at Purdue University seeking a PhD. in information security, companies often make inferences about potential customers and employees based on personal information found online on social networking sites. He said these sites only give out their users’ personal information after hiding identifying characteristics, but this decreases the utility of the data.
Last month, according to a New York Times article, the online movie rental service Netflix shelved its second $1 million contest for researchers to improve its recommendation software when scientists from the University of Texas at Austin found that the anonymous data from the first contest (movie recommendations, ratings and transactions) could be used relatively easily to re-identify the user’s account in the Netflix system, potentially revealing sensitive information like political, religious and social views.
However, while websites may give the personal information of their users willingly, anonymously and legally to companies, Yoosuf said, criminals can hack into a Facebook account or even simply impersonate a friend on a different social network in order to access a person’s profile.
Then, according to Yoosuf, since banks use date of birth as one factor of identification, and social security numbers correlate with date and state of birth, identity thieves with that information have an advantage.
“Humans are strange, sometimes,” Yoosuf said. “Some of us put our whole life cycle up on Facebook; we like to be connected, we like for people to know about us. But there should be a balance; basically, imagine that what you put online will live forever.”
Although Lovell said she could imagine how some could enjoy getting many birthday notifications on Facebook, by not putting her birthday on her profile, the wishes she does receive become more personal.
“I had a friend from Albuquerque who I hadn’t talked to in years wish me a happy birthday, which was kind of cool,” Lovell said. “This way, I know that hey, she actually remembered, and she didn’t just happen to see it on my Facebook page.”
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