On the whole most online security experts advise people to keep their real identity secret when surfing and browsing online. We advise our children to use a nickname or pseudonym, to keep our address private and to never give out things like phone numbers to people they don’t know. It is sound advice but unfortunately is not always easy to do on the social networks. Web site owners don’t on the whole like this sort of anonymity, they frown on the sort of programs which hide your real identity like this – especially if they’re selling something – it is in their interest to know as much as possible about their visitors as possible.
Most of us are quite rightly, hesitant to give out too much information online. A couple of years ago a popular game called World of Warcraft tried to enforce that users only use real names instead of their game names, they hit a huge backlash. The rationale was that it would make their forums a nicer place, arguing that without some anonymity people would take more responsibility for their actions and how they behaved. Their is some truth in that of course, but it comes at a huge price – you risk leaking confidential data online for anyone to use.
Given a real name and a few snippets of information, it’s very easy to build up a very comprehensive profile of someone. If they are an active user of social networking sites, a short amount of research can normally find names, addresses, family names, photographs and pictures of residences. It’s really not that hard to do and this information is obviously of great use to identity thieves and hackers. Just think of everything you’ve ever posted online, every Tweet, Status update, photograph. Every discussion you’ve been involved in on any forum, website or bulletin board, anywhere at any time over the last few years.
Adding things like age, politics, religion, interests and even where you go on holiday to a profile is easier than you think. We all leave a huge identity trail on the internet, and the worrying thing is that our children are leaving a much, much bigger footprint online. Teenagers on sites like Facebook and Twitter often wear their hearts on their sleeves and post up all sorts of personal information. Pictures of themselves, their friends and where they’ve been, how they’re doing and all sorts of personal stuff. Most don’t realise that this information is potentially then online for years to come, archived in ISP logs and websites across the world.