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10.4 Misuse of personal information 

This section should perhaps be subtitled the dangers of over-sharing as an increasing tendency to put personal information in the public domain, and to accept contact requests from others on social networks without fully checking out their background, poses a variety of risks (in this case generally more so for individuals than for institutions).

The most obvious issue is the risk of identity theft - many people put sufficient information on social networking sites, such as Facebook, to enable criminals to impersonate them with sufficient credibility to misappropriate funds by taking out loans or credit cards in their name.

The sharing of location-specific data is also on the increase. There are a range of location-based social networking sites (e.g. Foursquare and Tinder) that allow users to find information about events and services in the local area and to see when friends are nearby. The risks of this were highlighted in 2010 by a group of Dutch Internet users who created a site called Please Rob Me to demonstrate how data from a range of social media sites could be triangulated to identify addresses where the owners were away on holiday. The dangers of revealing location are also evident where someone may be the victim of stalking.


Good practice tips:

  • Offer guidance - ensure your staff and students are aware of these simple steps to protect their personal information:

    - examine your privacy settings on social networking sites to ensure they are appropriate;
    - investigate the background and credentials of other people before accepting a request to connect with them via social media;
    - weigh up the benefits of sharing each element of your personal information against the risks - is having a few extra friends or followers wish you a happy birthday worth the risk of criminals getting hold of this information?
    - weigh up the benefits of sharing information about your current location against the risks to person and property.



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