I’m sure pretty much everyone reading this has at least heard of one of the many social networking websites that have sprung into existence over the last few years – from the big names (Facebook), the smaller (MySpace) and perhaps the even smaller (Bebo). The micro blogging phenomena that is Twitter is only agitating the explosion of networking, and not only with people you know.

After speaking to one of my colleagues today regarding my rather impressive Google positioning (I seem to occupy the whole first page of results when you search for my name – including various contact numbers, email addresses and such), I got thinking about the amount of information that a general person seems to throw into the pot that is the internet. Not only is this a concern, but it further worries me considering my last post on personal information security where a friend of mine was phished for their MSN details.

So what does it mean? These days we seem to be happy to put, what is effectively, sensitive information into a website – such as our full name, contact numbers, e-mail addresses, date of birth and even partial addresses. Further we provide information on hobbies (typically a good indication to passwords or security questions), pets, family, and the such.

Granted, applications such as Facebook attempt to provide a modicum of security – by restricting access to this information by letting you select your friends – however, it seems a lot of people just add friends regardless of how well they know them – or even if they know them at all! It seems we are potentially exposing a rather significant amount of information about ourselves without actually stopping to consider the consequences.

And this is the age that people are most concerned about their personal information falling into rogue hands? I don’t think so.

What do we need to do? Apart from the obvious – stop and think about what we are doing when we plug all our information into a website, and consider if we actually trust the people that we are dealing with (both personally and commercially) online before we grant them access – but also some means of validating that we are who we say we are. By a form of electronic identity validation, we can effectively eradicate the problems of information exposure – if you can prove who you are, are there any problems associated with your information falling into rogue hands?

Obviously this sort of solution does not solve the problems that occur from minors providing significant amounts of information on these social networking mediums, however, that in my eyes is a totally different issue – and something that requires a significant amount of education to those concerned that the information they provide on the internet and via instant messaging is in no way secure and guaranteed as such – and perhaps additional restrictions within applications themselves on the amount of information that minors can enter – for example, why would a minor want to provide their contact telephone numbers on Facebook? Surely anyone they actually want to contact them (i.e. their location friends) would actually already know this, or have other ways of making contact?

Food for thought …