Don’t Let Facebook ‘Oversharing’ Come Back to Haunt You and Your Kids



  • Oversharing one’s personal information, especially where kids are concerned, brings up serious cybersecurity concerns
  • HPE’s Mark Painter discusses the dangers of oversharing on social media and how to mitigate unwanted attention from cyber attackers, criminals and advertisers

HPE’s Mark Painter on how to take charge of your online presence

et’s be honest—social media can be a lot of fun. The reconnecting with old friends, making new friends, the recipes, the memes, the political discussions. Social media has made it easy to reach out to a wide and somewhat captive audience. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram give parents the chance to brag openly about their kids, complete with photos and other identifiers like schools and organizations. As for the kids themselves, they definitely tend to share details about themselves that could have negative consequences.

This oversharing of personal information, especially where kids are concerned, reveals social media’s dark side. It isn’t just the vast amount of personally identifiable information (PII) that’s there that makes it a treasure trove for hackers and other criminals. It is also that the shared information may be around forever.

Social media sites use terabyte upon terabyte of storage right now, which is expected to increase, said Mark Painter, security evangelist with Hewlett Packard Enterprise. The PII gathered is too valuable to discard.

Too many people use social media for digital photo albums or as an online journal for future reference, making it necessary for social media platforms to offer virtually unlimited, timeless storage. “People aren’t thinking of security or privacy risks when they post stuff,” said Painter. “They are thinking of how it benefits them, even if just for positive reinforcement from ‘likes’.”


Lifetime storage has benefits for the social media sites, too. They depend on advertising to make a profit. Think about it, Painter said. Thanks to the oversharing on social media, it’s only a matter of time until advertisers will know virtually everything about social media users. “In twenty years, especially for Millennials, you are going to be able to track buying, spending and viewing habits for their entire lives,” said Painter. The vast amount of Big Data stored on social media servers will allow advertisers to tailor content for specific individuals, which should result in higher sales for both companies and social media sites generating advertising dollars.

However, as Painter is quick to point out, cyber criminals will also use PII for extremely sophisticated targeted attacks. Phishing attacks remain one of the most popular forms of attacks, regularly fooling even security-aware users into clicking on links and opening attachments. Expect cyber criminals to leverage the Big Data gathered from social media sites as a way to attack corporate networks.

Oversharing on social media puts physical security at risk, too, especially for kids who have information posted about them without their permission. Posting pictures of children at school or participating in specific activities gives pedophiles and other bad people an advantage. They can make themselves sound legitimate by mentioning specific things about the parent and/or the child. “Yes, that’s very dark, but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility in today’s sharing environment,” Painter said. This past winter, parents were able to see firsthand how oversharing can come back to haunt the family in the digital space. The V-Tech toy hack opened up a lot of information about children and families.

Since Facebook and MySpace first came online, teenagers and young adults were warned about what they posted. Illegal activities or inappropriate comments could cost them jobs or even college admission. Parents also need that warning when posting about their children. “Once a child reaches a certain age, anything posted about them could come back to haunt them, especially since this information is not going to go away,” said Painter.

  1. There is no putting the genie back in the bottle now that oversharing has begun. Users of all ages have steps they can take to protect all of the data they have shared (and overshared). First, Painter recommends paring down friend lists. “If they aren’t someone you’d be willing to share this information with in person—like telling them your house will be empty because you are on vacation—they shouldn’t be your friend on Facebook.”
  2. Second, it’s important to remember that data breaches will happen, and the more information that is out there about a person, the greater the risk of identity theft and fraud. “Social media users need to think a lot harder about what they are sharing and what risks they are exposing themselves to.”
  3. Third, social media is now a part of the workspace, so Painter advises companies to have social media policies in place. Hackers comb public information to build profiles of employees to target with phishing attacks. It isn’t just a matter of what is shared or accessed at work, but users should limit how much of their work identities are shared on social media.

There is nothing wrong with sharing on social media, but it should be done wisely. The information that seemed adorable today will resurface in some way in the not too distant future, whether it is by a criminal or an advertiser looking for your business. Bottom line, once that information goes live, it is out of the user’s control. Forever.


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