Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Word of the week: “overshare”

Photo by Brookage (Creative Commons)

What are we sharing online? Too much.

“Oversharing” used to refer to celebrities posting on their social media way too much detail about their personal relationships, their dates with other celebrities or newest bulimia techniques. Or about ordinary people blogging stuff that’s just too personal.

But something else is happening: in the last week, I’ve received a number of news releases, announcements and reports that use this word to refer to inadvertently sharing data like love poems to your significant other (real or hoped-for), bank records and even passwords for credit card accounts.

We need to juxtapose that with a new word I just invented: “underprotect.”

Why do we do this?

It's no surprise that
celebrities are the worst
oversharers - that's why they're
With computers and access to the Internet everywhere, all the time, we in the Western world are sharing a lot of information. It’s like we just can’t resist posting our pictures on Facebook and Google+, on flickr and Twitter.

And nearly a quarter of Canadians (and presumably a similar proportion of Americans, too) sent romantic, intimate or sexy photos to their partners for Valentine’s Day, according to the Love, Relationships and Technology report released by McAfee Canada, the company that sells computer security and antivirus software. “Over-sharing has led to privacy leaks and having private/intimate photos become exposed online,” the company’s release states.

Visa, the credit card company, announced yesterday that “a significant number of young Canadians who regularly post personal information on social network sites are putting themselves at unnecessary risk by mirroring similar oversharing behavior offline with their payment card information.”

That’s right: while we (okay, I’m not a “young Canadian” anymore) use the same devices to take and share pictures, compose love messages and send them to our partners, real or hoped-for, and pay bills, check bank accounts and make impulse purchases, most people don’t even bother taking the simplest security measures.

According to McAfee, while 60 percent of Canadians use smartphones to store personal or intimate photos, text or emails — and passwords to their accounts — 41 percent do not even protect the device itself with a password to turn it on.

“As long as I don’t lose my phone/tablet/computer, I don’t have to worry about that,” you might say.

But here’s where the next human characteristic that has to do with information comes into play: we can’t help snooping.

McAfee’s study found that 97 percent of respondents believe their data and revealing photos are safe with their romantic or life partners. However, 45 percent of the people McAfee surveyed admitted to checking out their partners’ emails, bank accounts and social media pages, and 57 percent looked at their bank accounts.

Over 40 percent track their ex-partners on Facebook and Twitter — more than do their current partners.

You can guess what comes next: ten percent of respondents have had their private information leaked without their consent. This includes not just the amateur porn (sorry, “intimate photos”), but things like bank account numbers, email accounts and passwords.

Creative Commons
It seems that when you lie to, cheat on and/or break up with a romantic partner, a common response is to publish your sensitive information.

“It can lead to embarrassment, and we have heard of cases where this kind of information enters into divorce proceedings,” says Doug Cook, Director of Sales Engineering with McAfee Canada.

“While they’re in a relationship, people tend to think everything will be wonderful forever. But when relationships end, things can sometimes get very ugly and people can take advantage of their ex-partner’s personal information.”

Cook advises against sharing passwords with anyone, including family members. It may seem harmless, but it exposes you to risk.

Photo-sharing services

Even sharing photos on services like flickr, Picassa and Apple’s Photostream can expose you to danger. “There could be information in a picture that people can use to see, where you live — for example, in a university residence,” says Cook.

Information on the professional social media site LinkedIn can help a fraudster put together enough information about you to send malware or spyware, which could lead to hacking or even penetrating a bank account.

“Sites like iCloud and Picassa a relatively secure, in that you can set various levels of permissions for people to see your photos,” Cook explains. “flickr encourages sharing of photos; by default, it’s open. So you need to be aware of what you’re sharing with family, friends and the world.”

Cook’s top three tips to protect yourself from cyber-stalking:

1. Educate yourself about digital security beyond setting passwords. Make sure you understand what access you are granting to your information, whether it’s data or photos.

2. Practise safe computing: use strong passwords (at least eight characters long, mixing upper- and lower-case letters, numerals and other types of characters) and change them regularly.

3. Invest $30 to $50 in capable digital protection software: firewalls and antivirus protection, and keep it up to date.

“Data that’s on the Internet never goes away,” says Cook. “Once your personal photos or information is out there, it’s there forever. People need to understand what they’re doing before they share information.”

In short, if you must overshare, make sure you don’t underprotect.

1 comment:

  1. My policy is never to send intimate pictures: you never know where they might end up.

    As for identity theft, it can happen to anybody. My dad's identity was stolen and they had signed him for a 300 000$ mortgage. Luckily, they managed to stop the transactions but the person is still loose.