We’re hooked on our smartphones
78% of all UK adults now own one and say they couldn’t live without it. Almost three-quarters of adults say they never turn their smartphone off and, on average, we check them once every 12 minutes during our waking hours. And instead of relying on the spoken word, we’re using our phones to interact in a different way through apps such as WhatsApp and social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Social networking has made it easy for us to share the highlights as well as the mundane details of our daily lives. It doesn’t matter what the post is about – a status update, a great night out or a rant about poor service from some provider or other, most are innocent blasts of personal information. But are they? Many of us don’t realise that our personal information is being hung out for all world to see and use – and not always for good.
Now defunct political consultancy, Cambridge Analytica, was accused of using the personal data of millions of Facebook users to sway the outcome of the Brexit referendum. Data-mining companies use social networking sites to compile user profiles to help companies accurately target their advertising. And criminals have got in on the act. Casual mentions of your work or social schedule offer important clues to your daily routine.
Posting complaints about your rail operator regularly failing you on your daily commute tells them when you’re generally out during the day. Sharing details about your holiday before you go and tweeting your excitement as you board the train, plane or boat is effectively putting up a big ‘empty’ social media sign over your home. Using apps to share your favourite cycle routes and rest points have, according to some police forces, led to bicycle thefts.
And sharing details about birthdays, hobbies and interests, pet names, school reunions, and relationship status can even be used by fraudsters to steal your identity. Over-sharing that results in the theft of personal goods may also impact any resulting insurance claim you make.
The Financial Ombudsman Service has warned of the potential risks associated with sharing personal details online, pointing out that home insurers expect you to take ‘reasonable care’ when it comes to the security of your home and its contents. You wouldn’t put a sign on the front lawn saying that you’re away for the weekend – posting the same thing online to the world, in general, could be taken as not taking reasonable care. Should your home be broken into while you’re away, for example, you could find your home insurer reduce the pay-out or refuse the claim if you advertised your absence on Facebook.
There are a number of resources to help you protect yourself such as Get Safe Online but here are some simple things that you can do to protect the personal information you share online:
- Lockdown your profile. Privacy settings on social networks help control how your posts are displayed. It also limits who can see you, your details and make contact.
- Don’t accept friend requests from strangers. If they claim to be a friend of a friend, check them out with that friend. It could be a fraudster or criminal trying to trick you.
- Wait until you’re home before sharing photos and posts about your holiday
- The same goes for day-to-day routine – think about anything that could alert a criminal that you’re away from home and wait until you’re back before sharing
- Be sensitive about the personal information you share to help prevent potential ID theft
Social media is an easy way to keep in touch with friends and family. However, over-sharing your personal information does put you at risk.