Privacy watchdog warns of Facebook dangers

The Information Commissioner's Office has warned that users of social-networking sites are putting themselves at risk of ID fraud
Written by Kable , Contributor

Young people are risking their privacy and leaving potentially damaging information on social-networking sites, says the Information Commissioner's Office.

Millions of young people in Britain would not want a college, university or potential employer to conduct an internet search on them unless they could first remove content from social-networking sites, according to research by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) published on Friday. As many as 4.5 million, or 71 percent, of people aged between 14 and 21 would want the option to pull information off Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and other sites. But almost 60 percent have never considered that what they put online now might be permanent and could be accessed in years ahead.

David Smith, deputy commissioner at the ICO, said: "Many young people are posting content online without thinking about the electronic footprint they leave behind. The cost to a person's future can be very high if something undesirable is found by the increasing number of education institutions and employers using the internet as a tool to vet potential students or employees."

The findings were unveiled as the ICO launched a website to help young people understand their information rights. The first section contains tips and advice on safe social networking.

As well as not thinking ahead before posting information on the web, the survey reveals that youngsters' online behaviour can be a gift to potential fraudsters.

Two-thirds of users accept people they don't know as "friends" on social-networking sites, and more than half leave parts of their profile public specifically to attract new people, according to the findings.

More than 60 percent are not concerned that their personal profile can be viewed by strangers, while seven percent don't think privacy settings are important and actively want everyone to see their full profile.

As for the data that young people make available, 60 percent post their date of birth, a quarter post their job title and almost one in 10 give their home address.

The ICO said that this basic information can be coupled with details that might be used to create passwords — such as a sibling's name, pet's name or mother's maiden name, — to give fraudsters the information they need to obtain products and services in a young person's name or access bank or online accounts.

The research also found that a third of young people have never read the privacy policies on social-networking sites and don't understand how they can manage their personal information. When asked how they felt about websites potentially using their details to target advertising at them, or passing the details on to other websites or brands, 95 percent said they were concerned about this.

Editorial standards