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Online Privacy and Facebook Facial Recognition

Kashmir Hill from Forbes magazine opened my eyes to an online privacy threat yesterday. You can read her well-written article here…

The short version is the Facebook is now using facial recognition on its site. At first that seems kind of cool – you tag someone in a photo once and then it automatically recognizes them in the future so you no longer need to tag them. It’s marginally handy from that perspective but would it be so useful that you’d be willing to publicize your social security number to get it?

I doubt it but here’s how it’s relatively easy for someone to get your social security number. Social security numbers were obviously created before social networking (or the Internet for that matter). Part of the social security numbering system includes the date that you were born, location of your birth etc. You can see that if you take a quick look at your children’s social security numbers. If someone takes a quick photo of you, they can use facial recognition features in Facebook to determine your identity. On Facebook, many people have their hometown’s listed and their date of birth. From there, it’s relatively easy using software to hone in on your social security number and actually guessing the right number a statistically significant percentage of the time. Here’s what to do:

1. Eliminate your birthday on Facebook (or at least the year).

2. Eliminate your hometown

3. Look around for other clues (do you have the year that you graduated from high school, college?)

Identity thieves are clever folks. I’m willing to bet that there are equally clever entrepreneurs who will create a business to help us enjoy social networking sites without risking identity theft. In the meantime, don’t be the easy victim of identity theft.

As a reminder, you should enable https browsing (click account in the upper right, click security, enable secure browsing and enable login notifications). This minimizes the risk that you’ll be hacked by browsing in https and also notifies you if someone logs in from a location other than your usual devices. Do the same for your children’s accounts.

Tim O’Loughlin

Eastward Capital Partners

432 Cherry Street

West Newton, MA 02465

o: (617) 762-3611

c: (617) 947-6272

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Eastward Capital Partners – providing $1 – 10 million venture debt, growth capital and equipment financing to venture-backed, emerging growth companies since 1994. We also provide expansion capital to non venture backed companies.


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Tim O’Loughlin

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