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Sunday, August 3, 2008

20 Questions You Should Probably Avoid on Social-Networking Sites

If you are reading this post, you most likely have an internet connection; if you have an internet connection, you most likely have an e-mail address. If you have an e-mail address, I will go ahead and assume you have friends (or maybe just family and co-workers) who send messages (personal or business) to your e-mail address. I know many people are still further behind the times than I, but I think it's safe to assume that anyone reading this post, or at least the majority of anyone reading this post, has been the recipient of a fairly lengthly survey, via e-mail, Facebook, Myspace, or whatnot, requesting the most intimate details of your life in exchange for a possible glimpse inside another friend's, or some casual acquaintance's, life.

Judging from my inbox, or, within the last year or so, my Facebook home page, a lot of people think displaying their life for, often, hundreds of people to view is completely harmless. Intimate surveys were never as much of a problem with e-mail, since these surveys usually stuck within small groups of close friends. But, since these surveys have started flooding social networking sites, the intimate information shared in these surveys is often available to hundreds of people (hardly an exaggeration), many of whom we hardly know.

Identity theft is very real and very common... why are there so many victims? I think part of the problem lies within these 'fun' surveys floating around in cyberspace... although many of the questions seem harmless, it wouldn't take very long to obtain a complete profile on someone. I'm not saying these surveys need to be avoided like the plague, but I am saying we should exercise caution when answering these surveys.

For now, here's a list of twenty questions we might not think of as a security threat - I won't bother posting the obvious, such as "what is your mother's maiden name?", or "what is your social insuance number?" - I'm sure my readers are smart enough to realise the danger in such questions. Also, some of these questions have less to do with identity theft and more to do with personal safety... I've compiled this list in hopes to pass on a few lesser-known helpful pieces of information.

20 Questions You Might Not Want to Answer (at least, not seriously)

1. What are the last four digits of your cell-phone number? This one should be pretty obvious... the city you live in is pretty much common knowledge, so it wouldn't be too hard for someone with not-so-innocent ideas to trace down the first three digits of your cell-phone number.

2. What was/is the name of your favourite pet? C'mon... don't tell me you haven't been asked this as a security question at least once.

3. What is your middle/full name? This one should be obvious too... seriously... do you often introduce yourself as "Jonathan Jacob Andrew Doe"?

4. Where did you attend elementary school? "In a large, brick building", or "at home, with my mother/father" should be a sufficient answer.

5. What is your favourite number? Okay, so this one seems pretty innocent... and generally is, but keep in mind, we're more likely to use our favourite number when filling out security questions, or creating PIN numbers or passwords. This seems like a really tiny, insignificant piece of information, but if it's pieced together with a number of other tiny, insignificant questions, it could be the missing puzzle piece. Personally, I just feel like someone's favourite number should be a fairly personal thing...

6. What is your height/eye colour/weight/shoe size? So these are questions that can be guessed pretty easily if someone knows you offline, or has a good picture of you. But, why flat out give them that information?

7. Who is your cell-phone/cable/internet provider? Most of us jump at any chance we get to whine and moan about crappy customer service from our service providers, but many of us do not stop to think how much easier it is for someone to cause problems with our services if they're told exactly what services we're using.

8. What bank do you use? What bank you use is hardly anyone's business... thankfully, this question is hardly asked on surveys (but I put it here because I have seen it on more than one occasion).

9. How many siblings do you have/what are their names/how old are they? You cannot (as easily) assume someone's identity if you know nothing about their family, can you?

10. Are you allergic to anything? If so, what? Right... that way, if you get to be a threat, you could easily be taken out (okay, so that's a bit paranoid, but is there really a good reason for everyone to know your allergens)?

11. Who is your best friend? Actually, avoid any question that asks for any friend's name (such as: "who was the last person to text you?", or whatnot)... some people don't appreciate their name being plastered all over the internet (plus, it's easier to gather information on someone if you can narrow down their network of friends).

12. Be careful when answering any sort of question beginning with "who/what was your first..." many security question often ask you to provide information about certain "firsts".

13. What is your sexual orientation/religion/political belief system? Think about it... do you really want every single person on your friend list to have access to that information? If so, by all means, express yourself... but keep in mind how much easier you're making it to piece together your entire being.

14. How much money do you make annually? If this one isn't obvious, there's really no hope for you.

15. What are your nicknames? This question makes it easier for people to find more information about you, if you happen to use multiple nicknames online.

16. What's your biggest secret? Again, you would have to be an idiot to answer this question... and no, I don't admire people who "let it all in the open".

17. What is your ethnicity? Avoid any questions asking for your cultural background information... or, if you're like me, just respond with "mutt"... once again, this sort of question seems minor, but it's pretty jam-packed.

18. Have you ever taken drugs/what drugs have you taken? This isn't so much an identity theft issue... more of a personal safety issue... do you really want your parents, or maybe even the police, seeing your answer to that question?

19. How many piercings/tattoos do you have? This works to identify criminals, so why couldn't it help criminals identify you?

20. Where did you meet your spouse/significant other? Common security question

21. What time were you born? This may be a little more superstitious than anything else, but it can be pretty easy to obtain a pretty detailed astrological profile of someone if you have the exact time they were born.

I hope this list provided some helpful hints and I wish you all safe surfing. Oh, and by the way, if anyone on here ever makes you crack a smile, drop by to vote for my blog.


Nanny Goats In Panties said...

What's your biggest secret? Are you kidding me? By answering this question, the answer is no longer valid! You certainly make an excellent point though, the above questions seemingly scattered throughout one or more surveys seem harmless, but when you bunch all of them together like this, they look so devious!!! Although anyone who would start spitting out their social security number or credit card numbers to 25 of their friends deserves what's coming to them! Sheesh!

David said...

Not only is answering these question a noteworthy security risk, answering them or placing the information on a facebook or myspace page is fodder for a prospective employer to decide to ignore your application or for your current employer to fire your butt for drug use or promiscuous activity embarrassing to the company.

Zeta Thompson said...

Add to the list Mother's name and and Father's name. I have recently seen that a few times.

JD from Hoeno said...

I like to throw them off and answer all the security questions the same way. Example:

What is your mother's maiden name?
Answer: Bob Hope

What is your pet's name?
Answer: Bob Hope

Who is your childhood here?
Answer: Bob Hope

Of course, I'm not telling you my real answer. That would be stupid. I don't say Bob Hope. I'm just using Bob Hope's name instead of Roy Orbison's name so you won't know that's what I use...Oh, crap.