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Things You Should Never Reveal on Facebook

By Edited Oct 15, 2015 1 2
Privacy erosion
Credit: opensourceway on Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 with Attribution and Share-Alike

Being the most popular social network on the Internet, and high up on the list of frequently visited websites on the web (pretty much coming in second next to Google), Facebook has a lot of alluring and compelling reasons to visit the site. The site is constantly tweaking its interface and integrating other activities to enhance and increase user experience.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg created the network with a vision of shared information. The Facebook model is built upon real identities and real people interacting rather than chat or screen names like it was back in the good 'ol days of AOL bulletin boards and chatrooms.

And boy has he succeeded! Every day hundreds of millions of people actively share information. But how much should you share?

Mark Zuckerberg in 2013
Credit: TechCrunch (Wikimedia Commons)/Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Mark Zuckerberg in 2013 at a TechCrunch event

While there are some benefits to showing your real identity and face on Facebook, there are some distinctive drawbacks as well. One of the disadvantages is perhaps the Facebook design itself. The massive network of over 1 billion members can give the illusion of a "small town" feel, which means people often may forget that the entire Facebook community or, depending on privacy settings used, the web population could be reading. Despite the community feel, it is wise for Facebook users to be mindful of what pieces of information they share and what details they post anywhere on the website. 

Things you should consider not reavealing on Facebook -

Home Address

A home address is one of the details best left unseen. Many of the connections people tend to make on Facebook are theoretically strangers, even if you once 'knew' them once upon a time or "back in the day". While you'd like to think that everyone on Facebook you're connected with is your friend, the reality your best buddy in second grade may not be as nice as you thought he or she was back in grammar school. Handing out your address online could lead to dangerous physical situations, robbery and/or identity theft. Think about it - most people you know offline probably already know where you live, there is no reason to share the details online with people you'll never or rarely will see.

Absences from Your Home

An announcement you're on vacation is another tidbit of information that should never be shared. By announcing your absences on the network, especially vacations or other extended trips, hypothetically you're issuing an invite to come rob you - especially if you've already shared your home address. While long absences should never be shared, it is also a good idea to not share too much about daily routines and regular absences either. If you must share your excitement about a vacation or other outing, you're better off waiting upon your return to provide more details or to share photos.

Thief opening a window

Kim Komando, radio host and Web entrepreneur who writes about digital issues, cited a survey in December 2014 that stated over 75 percent of convicted burglars said they used social media to pick their victims. 2 Also watch out for those "check in" apps that share where you're at, another golden way people hand over thieves the information they seek.

Thieves often find savvy ways to find out the specifics, best not to give them any ammunition.

Social Security Number

This one is pretty much a no-brainer these days, however it is a piece of information that should never be given and worth mentioning. Many rogue apps may try and convince you to provide your social security number. Other scammers may approach you with a "realistic"sounding reason to cough up your number; do not fall for this one under any circumstances.

Where You Were Born

While seemingly harmless in nature, sharing your birth place could open up a can of worms. Many security questions for accounts and/or personal documents require you to list a place of birth. Identity thieves could have a field day if they obtain your place of birth and pair it with other information they have collected. You figure, thanks to the foundation Facebook is built upon, ID thieves may already have your real name, and possibly a ton of other personal information if they have been following comments and noting information on your profile. Handing them over the name of your birth place could spell bad news.

A 2009 study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University found:

"Public information readily gleaned from governmental sources, commercial data bases, or online social networks can be used to routinely predict most — and sometimes all — of an individual's nine-digit Social Security number."  1

Researchers found that a birthday and state of birth are "sufficient enough to guess" a social security number with "great accuracy".

Other Personal Information to Consider

Other information that is best kept to oneself include birthdays, phone numbers and mother's maiden name. If you really want to include your birthday (and a lot of people do), at least leave off the year, although even this could be risky as a thief could pluck away until they hit the right year. This is especially true if you've linked to your high school information or joined groups associated with anything age-related. In that case, wouldn't be hard to guess based on who you've connected with that graduated with you if they are sharing information. 

Birthday cake and candles
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Sharing your birthday on Facebook could spell bad news if an idenity thief collects enough information on you.

Phone numbers are perhaps not as harmful, but why subject yourself to any additional risk? Phishermen could use it to contact you and use information you've shared to try and trick you into coughing up the missing pieces they want to use to steal your identity. Your mother's maiden name is connected to many credit and/or other accounts as a security question, this one is risky to share, although can be challenging since chances are members are connected to family members who share the name.

Use Privacy Controls

Nothing is infallible and glitches on Facebook have been known to happen, but every little bit helps. Facebook provides privacy controls - if you are using your account in a personal manner, by all means, use them! Hopefully, everyone on your network is trustworthy.  If you do share levels of personal information, be careful about connecting with strangers online.  Also pay close attention to the apps you use on the network and learn what type of information they collect - not all of these are trustworthy. All it takes is one rogue app and your information can be compromised. In your privacy settings you can restrict some or all apps.

Many personal particulars should never be revealed on the network. Despite the level of sharing Mark Zuckerberg would probably like to see, some information is simply best kept under wraps and should stay off Facebook. 

Many Internet fads have come and gone, but Facebook does not fall into this category. While competitors may emerge, as it stands right now, chances are the network will be around for a while. Good privacy practices and information not to share applies to other social networks too. I primarily picked Facebook for this piece because it is the largest and most populated one.

While there are many advantages to actively participating in social media in general, it's also wise to be aware of its pitfalls too.

Facebook screen shot


Jan 23, 2015 6:33am
Excellent reminders. People have unwittingly given out way too much info. Sometimes even saying something like "born and raised in . . ." or those family ancestry sites / questions make me leery. Sharing when and where you are going on vacation is a huge no-no.

Recently, Consumer Affairs announced that Facebook is cracking down on hoaxes: http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/facebook-cracking-down-on-hoaxes-012115.html
Jan 23, 2015 3:44pm
I agree. Those family ancestry sites are great, but they also can be sobering when you realize how much is out there. Someone I know was in an online group a while back associated with genealogy. The conversations took place email, but turns out they were also in a public group visible online. She was so upset when she realized just how much information she put "out there".

Thanks for the link, I am glad to see FB is addressing this. (I didn't realize this was now an option "purposefully fake or deceitful news, [or] a hoax disproved by a reputable source.") Hopefully they get it right.

Thanks Rose for sharing your thoughts. Very appreciated!
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  1. "Carnegie Mellon Researchers Find Social Security Numbers Can Be Predicted from Publicly Available Information." Carnegie Mellon University. 23/01/2015 <Web >
  2. "Zuckerberg’s Law of Information Sharing." New York Times. 06/11/2008. 23/01/2015 <Web >
  3. "4 ways burglars use social media to target you." Kim Komando. 19/12/2014. 23/01/2015 <Web >
  4. "Fact Sheet 35: Social Networking Privacy: How to be Safe, Secure and Social/General Tips for Using Social Networks." Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. 23/01/2015 <Web >

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