Why should I keep my date of birth a secret? – Bill Thompson


Bill Thompson has a novel take on the whole Facebook/privacy debate:

The complexity of the interaction between online and
offline worlds has been highlighted recently by a spate of warnings
about how we are exposing ourselves on social network sites.

Unruly Oxford students have been tracked down by the
university authorities, a beauty queen in the USA has been blackmailed
over supposedly private photos, and employees have been told that their
employers may own any profiles or contacts lists they create using work
computers.

Now Facebook users have been warned of the danger of identify theft that comes from posting personal information on the site.

The problem is apparently that we are all giving away
too much information that should remain secret, like our date of birth,
address and even details of which schools we have attended or where we
have worked.

This information should apparently be carefully
protected because criminals can use it to fill in applications for
credit cards or loans, stealing our identities and causing all sorts of
problems.
This seems to be entirely the wrong way around.

I have never kept my birthday secret from my friends,
partly because I like to get cards and presents, and I do not see why I
should have to keep it secret from my online friends. If that means
that other people can find out about it then the systems that assume my
date of birth is somehow ‘secret’ need to adapt, not me.

But when it comes to loans, credit cards and other
financial services it really is up to the banks to adapt to the
networked world, not us.

I do not want to make 6 October, 1960 a secret date.
Nor do I want to have to remember who knows that my mum’s maiden name
was Clubbs or that I went to Southwood Comprehensive School.

In the networked world people can find out these things
about me, and so anyone who wants to verify my identity should realise
that they can no longer rely on them in any way. If they continue to do
so then they should be responsible for the consequences, not me.

And if identity theft is becoming easier because of our
widespread use of the internet then the ways in which identity is
established have to shift to reflect that.

We cannot rely on assumptions that served the Victorians
and limit our use of these new tools just because profit-starved credit
card issuers are unwilling to improve their inadequate procedures.

The problem here is not Facebook, it is the antiquated thinking of lazy companies.

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