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Facebook feature can attract ID thieves

As the new Timeline feature rolls out, Facebook users should be even more vigilant about how they share personal data.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 10, 2011 11:40AM

This post comes from Brian O'Connellat partner site MainStreet.


MainStreet on MSN MoneyFacebook's new Timeline places a much greater emphasis on data-rich behavior from users that increasingly tells the world where they are, what they're doing, and who they're doing it with. That doesn't have monetary value for Facebook users, but it does for marketers -- and criminals.


Facebook, after all, is a natural target for people who want to get to know you better, and marketers and identity thieves (not that the two groups target users for the same reasons) are especially drawn to social media to gain access to consumers.


Ananda Mitra, a communications professor at Wake Forest University, says Timeline could lead to a treasure trove of personal data that's increasingly wide open to anyone with access to Facebook.


"Though Facebook this month and Facebook next month will have a dramatically different look and feel, the data doesn't change," says Mitra. "What's new is the amount of data people are invited to, and will, provide. Mining of all this data is the next inevitable step, opening the door for more prevalent community-based stories and more targeted marketing opportunities."


Mitra doesn't specifically point to any criminal element, but he does examine the issue of "identity narratives." He uses the term "narb" as shorthand for "narrative bits" -- key pieces of personal data including age, sex, location and social preference easily found on Facebook. Those are exactly the bits of data identity thieves love to extract to build a target-rich environment for fraud. More innocently, marketers use the same data to create a buyer's profile that they can use to sell you specific goods and services.


With Timeline, building those profiles is much easier for those individuals and groups looking for your personal data. Post continues after video.

"Through narbs, Facebook Timeline makes your weekend check-in at the university's football stadium with two of your friends more visible and data-rich than ever before," he says. "It says where you are, whose company you keep, that you like sports, that you possibly graduated from that school and suggests that you also might like to eat or drink certain things. It invites targeted advertising and information about consumption behavior directly to your tailgate."


Mitra adds that users shouldn't grow too anxious about Timeline, as it can still be a great way for people to share experiences with friends and family. But common sense says that Facebook users should be even more vigilant about how they share personal data. After all, prying eyes are out now more than ever -- and the more information you give them, the less secure your personal identity will be.


Some key data about Facebook:

  • More than 800 million active users.
  • More than 50% of active users log on to Facebook in any given day.
  • The average user has 130 friends.
  • There are more than 900 million objects that people interact with (pages, groups, events and community pages).
  • Average user is connected to 80 community pages, groups and events.
  • More than 2 billion posts are "liked" and commented on per day.
  • On average, more than 250 million photos are uploaded per day.

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