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One Step Ahead
April 14, 2009, Volume 55, No. 29

One Step Ahead

Another tip in a series provided by the Offices of Information Systems & Computing and Audit, Compliance & Privacy.

Facebook Sharing Can Be Broader than You Think: A Birthday Example

Facebook is a fun place to celebrate your birthday, but with all the well wishes that are sure to come your way from your Facebook friends, it is important to think carefully about how broadly to share your information. One of the key pieces of information used in identity theft is a person’s date of birth, and a Facebook account which is not carefully controlled through privacy settings could be exposing your birthday and other personal data to thousands of people, and providing an easy “one stop shop” for an identity thief.  For example, the average Facebook user has 120 Facebook friends.  If you share the data on your profile with “Friends of Friends,” more than 14,400 people could know your birth date.  The number would only increase over time as more people join Facebook.

If you join a Facebook Network, like the UPenn Network, which currently includes 48,947 people, and leave the default privacy settings in place, everyone in the UPenn Network will be able to see your profile, including your birth date.  Adjust the Network privacy settings to make sure only your true friends can see your private data.

In terms of your birthday, the safest option is to choose not to list your birth date by choosing the “Don’t show my birthday in my profile” option on the info tab when you are in the edit screen.  This is absolutely the best option if the number of Facebook Friends you have has climbed well above your actual in-person social circle and your Facebook Friends are actually people you don’t know very well. If you want your birthday out there, make sure to limit access to “Friends only” and list your month and day, but not the year. 

With all data on Facebook, birthday and beyond, privacy settings are key. Review your settings often, whenever you join a new group or install a new application, to make sure everything remains as tight as it should be. Otherwise, you may be sharing information about yourself to thousands more people than you wish.


To receive weekly OneStepAhead  tips via email, send email to listserv@lists.upenn.edu with the following text in the body of the message:  sub one-step-ahead <your name>.

For additional tips, see the One Step Ahead link on the Information Security website: www.upenn.edu/computing/security/.

Almanac - April 14, 2009, Volume 55, No. 29