There is still widespread naiveté about the value of personal information and the way data is aggregated according to a new survey by Usamp.
Men and women are quite willing to share personal information about relationships, education, employment, brand preferences and political and religious affiliations.
But when it comes to information like email or physical address, phone numbers, or their location, women put a higher premium on physical safety and are markedly more guarded than their male counterparts.
What users have to gain a better understanding of is the very clear risks all of this information sharing represents, and how, with the information women were willing to share, the rest of their information is fairly easily exposed.
Why all that information matters
When looking at the types of information both men and women were fairly willing to share, it is the unintended use of that information that place you at risk.
For example, it was through hard fought battles in the 20th century that we gained a number of civil rights designed to protect every citizen from discrimination based on gender, religion, race, color, national origin, age, marital or family status, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, political affiliation, financial status, and more.
These prejudices remain, and by sharing this information freely online users enable the very types of discrimination that civil rights were established to prohibit. And users do it in a way that never places an employer or company at legal risk. A candidate will never know why they weren’t considered, they won’t even make it to the interview.
To understand how this works, Microsoft conducted research in January 2010, to expand the understanding around role of online information and reputation.
One aspect of the research looked specifically at how recruiters and HR professionals use online information in their candidate screening process.
As you can see in this table, would-be employers can now make decisions based on a number of factors long before ever inviting a candidate in for an interview process where some system of oversight could possibly identify discriminatory practices against selected candidates.
With this type of undetectable prescreening, employers can make decisions based on how people look in their photos – weight, age, skin color, health, prettiness factor, style, tattoos, and economic indicators. They can look at comments made by the candidate, friends or family members that they would never have had the right to access pre-internet. They can look at groups and organizations a person is associated with – and potentially make decisions based on political affiliations, faith, sexual preferences, even medical factors – if this information is indicated through the groups and organizations to which the candidate belongs.
Learn more about the erosion of civil rights in my blog Civil Rights Get Trampled in Internet Background Checks.
The damage doesn’t end there
It is not just would be employers or college application review boards who can and do use this information. If 5 years ago someone posted a photo of you on a drinking binge, will it impact whether an auto insurance company accepts you, or quotes you a higher rate? Will it impact your medical insurance rate? How about your ability to get a car, school, or home loan? The answer is likely to be YES.
A reluctance to share address, email, phone numbers and other ‘locatable’ information doesn’t matter if you’re willing to share your name, employer etc.
The study found that among the types of personal information shared, men and women are most likely to be happy to share their names (86% and 88%, respectively) and email addresses (55.2% and 42.4%, respectively). Yet unless you live off the grid, your name alone is probably enough to get your address and phone number – and sometimes your email address. It’s enough to discover if you own or rent, if you vote, have a criminal record, etc. Compounding your risks, the facial recognition tools now in Facebook and Google+, mean that even your face in a photo may be enough to collect all this information.
Does it mean you hop off the internet and hide? No. But it does mean that before sharing any information you should ask yourself who could see it? What could they do with it? Will it damage you, your child, or someone else in the future? If your information is already out there, you may want to work with websites to have any sensitive information removed.