Social Media: TMI is Never a Good Thing

Are you ever hanging out with your friends and maybe you overindulge them with a fact or two about your life or some strange proclivity you have, only to have them exclaim, "TMI!" (meaning "too much information")? Then you’re like, "TMI? Why don’t you just say ‘too much information?’ What’s with the ridiculous abbreviating all the time? Just say actual words, people. Social media is destroying our culture!"

Anyway, an article from Boston University’s Bostonia sheds an illuminating light on why giving away "TMI" on social media outlets could in fact be extremely detrimental for those who do the sharing:

“People participate in online social networks because they want to share,” says (Evimaria) Terzi, a College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of computer science, who has developed a mathematically derived “score” that can help users control their privacy. “People who might be introverts in their real life suddenly have these online personas and become extroverts. You want to appear cool to your online friends. And you can be cool by revealing something, like your photos. You want to show off.”

The problem, she says, is that information that most people consider perfectly safe for sharing can, in mathematically skilled hands, be puzzled together to reveal things that few people want others to know.

In a recent experiment, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University were able to deduce the Social Security numbers of five million Americans born between 1989 and 2003, mining information that is typically shared on social networks and other data from publicly available sources.

Sifting such data through complex statistical correlations, the Carnegie Mellon researchers hit pay dirt for almost a tenth of Americans born in the target years. Meanwhile, MIT researchers studying 4,000 Facebook student profiles correctly determined, in most cases, whether the profile was that of a gay man, even though the users had not disclosed their sexual preference.

A recent study in Consumer Reports found that 52 percent of social network users disclose information that could leave them vulnerable to cybercriminals. Information considered dangerous by the magazine includes a full birth date, which can help identity thieves get access to bank accounts and credit card accounts and other information; disclosing vacation dates and other absences (3 percent of Facebook users reportedly advertise when their homes will be unoccupied); and posting a child’s name with photos or captions.