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25 Random Things You Don’t Want to Share Online. Even if you think it’s safe.

By Tiffany Monhollon

When it comes to your personal brand online, we’ve come a long way when it comes to transparency on the web. This is a great thing for making the web a more open and real place to form connections, network, and share ideas. But it can provide challenges and opportunities for unsavory things to be done with your identity – or worse. The basic vibe when it comes to open personal branding on the web is that there is safety in numbers, which is true in many ways. But it’s also easy for identity thieves (or even stalkers) to pick the suckers out of a crowd, especially one of this size.

So if you’ve been hit by the 25 things meme on Facebook, the question you have isn’t really to share or not to share – that’s up to you. But for the sake of your safety, you should be asking yourself about what you are posting – even in places where you think your content is safe. Sure, on Facebook, you are sharing content with people you probably know - or think you know, at least. But that doesn’t mean it’s always safe. Or even private. Even one of your friends whose own Facebook profile is easy to hack can open a “private” profile up to attack. Just one loose or unknown connection who has ulterior motives who can access your content can simply copy and paste your vital information anywhere they please - to keep, or to share with others you don’t know. Others who might have some plans of their own for your identity.

So before you post, check out these 25 random things you probably shouldn’t publish online.

The Basics

The basic information an identity thief needs to steal from you varies depending on the schemes they plan to carry out, but it might surprise you just how little information they actually need. Here are some vital pieces of information they might look for.

1. Physical addresses
2. Personal phone numbers
3. Birth dates
4. Birth cities
5. Social security numbers
6. Account or credit card numbers
7. User names
8. Passwords
9. Children’s full names

The Details

Most people are savvy enough to not post basic identity-related information online intentionally (though that doesn’t always mean the information is safe). But, there are other types of information that could give an identity thief who has just one piece of basic personal information about you access to your financial accounts, your blog, social network profiles, etc.

This is more unique personal information about your relationships, history, preferences, and life in general. Exactly the type of information you’ve probably given as the answer to some security questions when creating password measures for online profiles. The kind of information people use in passwords - words, dates, and ideas that are personally memorable.

10. Your anniversary date
11. The name of your teacher in any grade.
12. Your children’s birthdays.
13. The make and model of your first car.
14. Your first pet’s name.
15. Your high school mascot.
16. Your favorite word.
17. Your best friend’s name.
18. The maiden names of relatives.
19. Your favorite color.
20. Your favorite movie.
21. The color of your first car.
22. The name of your elementary school.
23. Your favorite food.
24. The name of your first kiss.
25. Your favorite place to eat.

This short list can’t capture them all. But what it should do is capture your attention.

Because these are the kinds of details people are sharing on MySpace and Facebook and Twitter every day.

So, stop for a second and ask yourself if you are also relying on the same information to keep your online identities secure.

When you’re publishing information about yourself online, you probably mean well. But it’s like my mom always said when I started driving – “It’s not you I’m worried about; it’s all the other people [or in this case, bots or hackers or scammers] out there.”

Next Steps

If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, act immediately.

If you have already published these types of facts about yourself online and have also used the same facts in passwords or security questions, it’s not too late to take preventative measures. Create new passwords and security answers immediately as a first precaution. There are lots of great password creation tips you can use, so make it a priority. You can also pay for identity theft protection from a company like LifeLock to help prevent problems if any of your basics have been compromised.

But, the truth is, no system can fully protect you if you are sharing too much information online.

You never know what people will do with the information that’s connected to your personal identity. So make sure you aren’t ever publishing any information about yourself that could give yourself - or your security online - away.

Because social media is real life, too.

How do you decide what personal information to post online and what to keep under wraps? Have you posted 25 Things or another meme and had weird things happen with your info? What are your thoughts about social media and personal security? Come chat with me in the comments section.

Enjoy this post?

By Tiffany Monhollon | February 6, 2009

Topics: Authenticity, Blogging, Personal Branding, Social Media |

37 Responses to “25 Random Things You Don’t Want to Share Online. Even if you think it’s safe.”

  1. Brian Says:
    February 6th, 2009 at 8:38 am

    And speaking of passwords - a program like KeePass helps manage them. Yes, we have so many passwords these days we need programs to handle it! ;)
    http://keepass.info/ (free/open source)

  2. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    February 6th, 2009 at 8:45 am

    Hey, Brian, thanks for the link! I know a lot of people who use KeePass or other password management tools and speak very highly of them.

  3. Rebecca Says:
    February 6th, 2009 at 9:02 am

    Interesting and timely. I’m working on a vaguely related post for Monday… this makes me all scared though. When is transparency too much? That is the question.

  4. Jamie Favreau Says:
    February 6th, 2009 at 9:04 am

    I don’t usually post those kinds of things but it is good to share them with people. It makes you think.

  5. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    February 6th, 2009 at 9:24 am

    @ Rebecca - Thanks. I couldn’t believe after all the mainstream media coverage the meme got today that none of them mentioned security issues that this type of thing brings up. And SO many people are joining Facebook every day, they haven’t grappled with these issues of personal online branding and persona and transparency like you and I have. So we need to keep this information alive and keep people talking about it so that education happens.

    I think the question about transparency is important, too. We need to keep talking about it and working it out. The Kathy Sierra stalking incident wasn’t the end, even though that helped in some ways to set more standards. Just check out Arrington’s recent escapades.

    Really, though, this shouldn’t scare you. It should just make you think. If you’re going to be using some information about yourself to keep your online persona secure, THAT is the information you want to keep to yourself. :)

    Really, taking the simple step of thinking about this can actually bring you more freedom to your online transparency.

    @ Jamie - Like you said, it’s good to think - sometimes we just do because that’s what everyone is doing, but just be smart about it!

  6. Nisha Says:
    February 6th, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Ah I didn’t even think about the risk that comes from sharing those little details that are often used for passwords and security questions. Good point. And good thing I would never do the 25 things meme anyways… :)

  7. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    February 6th, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    @ Nisha - It’s just a simple idea, but it’s so easy not to make the connection!

  8. Kevin D. Hendricks Says:
    February 6th, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    It seems to me in many cases it’s almost impossible to keep some of this information from getting online. We obviously need to be careful about how much we reveal, but if we hold everything back it seems impossible to interact with people in any real way (which always carries risk, whether online or off).

    I’m wondering if one small solution might be to not use personal information for security purposes. For example, make up fake answers to those security questions. Pretend your first car is a 1988 Yugo and then it doesn’t matter if anyone knows your real first car was a 1986 Ranger. Clearly it’s a little more work to remember this fake identity, but it seems easier than being careful to never mention a personal detail or let slip that you celebrated so-and-so’s birthday today.

  9. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    February 6th, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    @ Kevin - I think you’re right. It is hard to control all the info that’s out there about you. Sometimes other people post details and info you don’t want posted. I had a magazine do that to me once w/ a piece of the “basics.” Can’t get rid of it online now.

    I do use an identity theft protection service, and I think your idea is great too. I don’t think it’s being paranoid to take extra precautions, especially if you are a blogger/writer/publisher who is putting themselves out there as a personal brand.

    Sot he idea of creating a “false” identity for yourself is fun. I’ve thought about this too.

    My main issue with it is remembering. The solution that could be fun, tho. Write a character background for your “alternate” identity and memorize all their details? Creative writing project!

  10. George Says:
    February 6th, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    Great post. I hope that consumers use your advice. I blog about ID-theft, data breaches and corporate responsibility — and wrote something similar given the increasing popularity of Twitter:

    http://ivebeenmugged.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/02/message-donts.html

    George

  11. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    February 6th, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    @ George - Thanks! I’m no ID theft expert, but some things like this are so easy to be vulnerable about.

    Thanks for the article link. I’ll have to check it out.

  12. Jennifer Brooks Says:
    February 7th, 2009 at 5:09 am

    Relevant items, all … and with identity theft on the rise, it’s important to keep your information protected.

    As a resource (although slightly dated at 2006), the BC Rural Women’s Network sponsored an ‘Online Safety Toolkit’ in response to stories about women’s vulnerability and risks when communicating online. A hefty read, but lots of good info. http://www.onlinesafetytoolkit.com

    Thanks, Tiffany!

  13. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    February 7th, 2009 at 6:37 am

    @ Jennifer - Thanks for the resource!

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  17. Sorry gang. It takes effort. « Dawn’s Blog Says:
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  18. yinka olaito Says:
    February 21st, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    Tiffany,
    Quite a great post and it should sound a note of warning to everyone whose identity is online.I think the bottomline is to be very careful with any information that is made available to the public. What I do note is that we can not shy away from giving out certain information about ourselves if we are truly interested in building relationship.Even if one ommits personal telephone, the office telephone can be used by hackers and internet thieves.
    On birth dates, most social networks requires you fill certain details with regards to this. Though some give option of making it private while others do not. In such cases what solution will one profer if you need to be on such network?
    I guess best advice is that every one should weigh implications of divulging personal details before joining any network. But in all, it is a great post, keep it up.

  19. Heidi Ohlander Says:
    February 22nd, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Thank you for writing this very helpful post. I hope people take this information to heart and make some changes.

    I once was friends with a guy who made all his passwords related to soft drinks like Mountain Dew. He loved The Dew. And he was working for a company that made websites. He had to create secure passwords, and some of them included “MountainDew” in the password.

    But then again, sometimes the experts out there are the ones that break all the rules.

    ~ Heidi

    P.S. And for those that are wondering, I’m no longer friends with the Mountain Dew guy because he got a little too infatuated with Mountain Dew. I think it got into his brain and he turned into a Mountain Dew Zombie. You know, the ones that live off 2 liter bottles of The Dew.

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  25. Jessica Says:
    May 5th, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    Tiff-Do you mind taking a look at my fb to see if I have too much info? I try to be really private but everyone has personal blindspots.

  26. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    May 6th, 2010 at 8:11 am

    Hey, Jessica! I think it’s ok to post things on Facebook but just make sure you aren’t relying on that same information to secure your online sites. So first rule of thumb is, don’t share info you use for security questions or passwords ANYWHERE online, public or “private.” So really, that’s up to you.

  27. Woodrow Pijanowski Says:
    June 11th, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    You made some good points on this subject.

  28. Marta Says:
    June 24th, 2010 at 4:39 am

    Thanks for this insight Tiffany! I was well aware of the basics, but I hadn’t considered the other possibilities. Social media can be fun, but you never know whose watching.

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