Should you lie on Facebook? [VIDEO]

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Privacy, Social networks

FacebookThere's something of a hoo-hah in the world of British politics today, after a senior government official advised users of social networks such as Facebook on how to protect their privacy.

Nothing controversial there, you might think. Until you realise that the advice from Andy Smith, an internet security chief at the Cabinet Office, was that you should lie about your real name and date of birth.

The BBC reports, that Smith told a parliamentary internet conference that providing fake details to social networking sites was:

"..a very sensible thing to do.. When you put information on the internet do not use your real name, your real date of birth. When you are putting information on social networking sites don't put real combinations of information, because it can be used against you."

Opposition Labour MP Helen Goodman told the BBC that she was outraged by the advice, and claimed that such behaviour could lead to more crime, not less:

"This is the kind of behaviour that, in the end, promotes crime. It is exactly what we don't want. We want more security online. It's anonymity which facilitates cyber-bullying, the abuse of children. I was genuinely shocked that a public official could say such a thing."

So, what do we think here on Naked Security?

Well, there is no doubt that cybercriminals can harvest personal information social networking profiles, and use it as an aid to identity theft.

As we have reported many times in the past, a worrying number of people are far too lax about sharing their names, addresses, phone numbers, full dates of birth, job and educational history etc on social networks like Facebook.

Last year, for instance, we reported on a British man who was jailed after stealing £35,000 (approximately US$ 55,000) from his neighbours' bank accounts with help from personal information they had posted on Facebook.

Back then, my advice to social networking users was that they should stop feeling compelled to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, to such sites.

Snapshot of old article on Naked Security

It's important to know, before you take that advice, that some websites (such as Facebook) do insist in their terms and conditions that you must provide it with accurate information. The penalty, if you break their rules, is that they could kick you off the site.

Remember though - Facebook and other sites like it have no way of verifying that you did tell the truth. They won't like me much for saying it, but why risk sharing too much personal information?

Many sites want you to be honest about your real date of birth, but this is probably to stop you from pretending to be a 13-year-old schoolgirl, rather than because they think it's important you say that your birthday is on September 5th or March 3rd.

Facebook privacy option

Sadly, simply making your date of birth private on Facebook may not be enough - back in 2008 they accidentally leaked everyone's date of birth, regardless of whether users had chosen to make it private or not.

So my advice is to lie about your date of birth when you can, but don't be deceptive regarding your rough age group.

Similarly, if a website asked you for your mother's maiden name (which is a matter of public record) for the purposes of a password reminder, why not make up the answer? For instance, say "Xena Warrior Princess", "Robert Mugabe" or "Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria". As long as you remember it, and no-one else can guess it - that's all that matters.

The same goes for your first pet's name, or the first road that you lived on.

Yes, MP Helen Goodman is right that cyber-bullying is a real problem as the recent tragic case of Amanda Todd proves. And no-one is suggesting that you lie on websites about the personal information where the truth really matters, such as when you're filling in your tax return online.

But, on balance, I think we all need to be more careful about the information we share on the web - and realise that sometimes a little fibbing and reticence might go a long way to a safer online experience.

Maybe you feel differently? Why not have your say by leaving a comment (anyonymously if you wish) below, or take our quick online poll.

If you are on Facebook, and want to learn more about security and privacy issues on the social network, join the Naked Security Facebook page where our 190,000 strong community regularly discuss the latest threats.

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16 Responses to Should you lie on Facebook? [VIDEO]

  1. Jeremy · 638 days ago

    I always had a fake DOB and my name is spelt differently to my birth certificate. Come at me Mark Zuckerberg. (In other words I doubt they could ever take legal action)

  2. sophisticat · 638 days ago

    I wouldn't touch Facebook with a 30' bargepole, but have lied to other sites. They don't need the information, let alone accurate information. A checkbox stating you are over 18 is all that's needed: under 18s will lie regardless.

    Smith went on to say you should only give accurate information to people you can trust - like the government. I love the irony there.

  3. scorpio6 · 638 days ago

    I changed the year-date of my birthday a while ago.
    I believe when I did it, a Facebook Alert popped up telling me I only had a fixed number of times that I was allowed to do this. ; )

  4. n m · 638 days ago

    I think we should not encourage people to lie about their full birth date, instead we should encourage people to not sign up for sites that ask for this information. They want this info so they can identify, track, and profile you across the web. If you need to be a certain age to use a site, they can simply ask: "Are you over age X" where X is 13 or 18 or whatever is required. The full birth date question is the main reason I have not joined Facebook and why I encourage others not to. Why should we encourage people to lie, which goes against the precepts of many religions, spiritual paths, and ways of life?

  5. Juan · 638 days ago

    While it is true that Facebook has no way of determining whether or not you tell the truth about the personal information you give them, the more relevant point is that Facebook has no way of guaranteeing that they can keep that information safe from others. THAT's the reason why I won't entrust them with such information...well, that and the fact that they've clearly demonstrated that they are hostile to my personal privacy.

    They have persistently refused to make all their "features" opt-in rather than opt-out. FAIL. They do just enough (barely) to give the appearance of "concern" about their users' security, but it's eyewash. In my lexicon, "Facebook" and "privacy" are antonyms. What a joke that they insist their users must be honest, when at the very best, they're...er, "economical with the truth". Hypocrites.

  6. Louie · 638 days ago

    I lie about my name on Facebook because employers use that against you while on the job. The last employer I worked for asked an employee to come in to be fired via Facebook. Too lazy to use a telephone. I will not give any job application a Facebook address or any social website, again because the use that against you. Also, what you post or say on Facebook can be used against you in a court of law. Just read the newspapers.

    I'm ready to give up on Facebook because they have become way to commercial to advertisements. And they use your "like" clicks for advertising on their website using your name and picture.

  7. Freida Gray · 638 days ago

    Just lying about your information isn't going to help much if the photos you post are actual photos of you ,your family or your home.

  8. Andrew Symmons · 637 days ago

    IT IS NEVER a good idea to give out information about yourself on facebook or to anyone outside of facebook , you can't even trust your local authority so why should you trust sites like facebook.. Identity theft is so simple to do especially for online scammers.
    by all means use your name and your date of birth but as to any more information draw a line this way you keep yourself protected. in certain circumstances it's not even safe to do that depending on the site you visit. so for your on secure mind be ware.

  9. Dawn · 637 days ago

    Ah only a policitian would encourage you to lie - after all it is the norm in their neck of woods :-)

  10. Gavin · 637 days ago

    In my capacity of security professional I've been recommending for a couple of years that "security questions" be answered in memorable but non-factual ways. It just makes complete and total sense.

    ...except when your dog really IS called Archduke Ferdinand.

  11. pduran · 637 days ago

    Regarding the potential for bullying, how are people going to learn to be tough and deal with life if they don't get bullied a bit?

    We're raising a bunch of pansies. Life is not going to be easy, don't raise kids with the illusion that it is.

    • Sounds like you have issues that need resolving.
      Just because you had a rough upbringing, don't try to justify it by saying it is or should be the norm.

      I'm not using my real name, face or DOB on Facebook.
      In fact, I only use it to gain access to sites that seem to require only social network membership to register, so NONE of my information is correct and blatantly so.

    • njorl · 637 days ago

      Conscience bothering you?

      Young people need to learn about life second-hand, from fiction, history, and the news. Then, they might have some chance of dealing effectively with man's inhumanity to man, once they do find themselves on the other end of it from the one you appear to favour.

  12. notreal · 637 days ago

    I not only change my name and DOB on facebook but I even do it here!

  13. Brenea · 637 days ago

    I've been way too honest I see.

    I had to move to fake answers to security questions when I couldn't find security questions I had answers for.

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.