Are you over-sharing?

Teiss Head of Consulting Jeremy Swinfen Green shares his thoughts on the ethics of lying online in this week's blog post.

It’s the Silicon Rule: If the product is free then you are the product!

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Collecting your personal data online and then making money out of it, as often as not by sharing it with other people, is one of the major drivers of the internet.

And all too often we give our personal data away, without giving it a second thought. Why? Because we simply don’t value it sufficiently. If someone asks for it, especially if we are going to get something free in return, then it makes sense to give it away.

Or does it?

Research from digital identity company Yoti  has shown that most people (87%) are worried to some extent about the security of their personal data online. And almost half of us (45%) really do worry when we enter personal information online.

So if we are worried, what should we do about it? If we want that free product, then NOT giving information away is hardly an answer. So how should we approach sharing our personal information online?

It depends on why we are doing it.

In some cases we need to share accurate information because the information is in effect a part of the product. When buying insurance, age, address and state of health will influence the quote we get. It makes sense to be scrupulously accurate if we want our insurance to be valid.

But in other cases it may make more sense to be “economical with the truth”. When you register with a site, good ones (like Amazon) are likely to ask for only name, email address, password and maybe a phone number especially if they are offering two factor authentication.

Others are greedier and may ask for things like your birthday, your gender and your address.  They may be open about it (“Tell us your birthday so we can give you a gift”) or they may collect this data as part of a security process.

Whatever excuse they give, these are potentially dangerous pieces of information for you to share as they could be used to help a criminal steal your identity.

Most sites don’t need this sort of information. So is it acceptable to lie?

Well, a lot of people seem to think so. Yoti discovered that 29% of us have given false information online, and this rises to 46% of web-savvy 18-34 year olds.

This seems like a sensible precaution and is a fairly easy one to manage.

How? First, identify the organisations that are critical to your way of life.  This could be government organisations, health providers, your bank and your insurance companies.

We have to trust (or at least hope) that these organisations are going to be reasonably careful with our personal data. And we can be fairly sure that they won’t share our data with other organisations unless we give them permission.

We probably shouldn’t lie to them.

But it may be worth checking with them whether all the data they are asking for has to be accurate. For instance your bank pretty certainly needs your home address. But if they ask you to register your mother’s maiden name as part of a security process then find out whether they really need it to be true. Because giving them a false one, one that criminals won’t be able to uncover on social media sites or on genealogy sites, may just make us a little more secure.

Then there are all those other organisations. They almost certainly have no right to ask us for personal details. So don’t share them. Create an "internet birthday", a false place you were born, a favourite pet’s name for that gerbil you were never bought. Use these in registration forms or as the answer to pre-filled security questions. If you are consistent then they become easy to remember across different sites.

Take care of your personal data. If it is misused, at the least it will irritate you and it could cause you genuine heartache. Learn to be economical with the truth online.

If you are interested in keeping yourself or your organisation safe online then explore our consulting and training services. Or get in touch with our head of cyber security training and consulting Jeremy Swinfen Green on jeremy@www.teiss.co.uk.


Image under licence from thinkstockphotos.co.uk copyright g-stockstudio