Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

If you saw a stranger peering into your windows at home or rifling through your desk at work, you’d call the cops. But many of us have no idea what happens to all the bits and bytes of information we send over our computers, iPhones and Blackberries.

Take Facebook, for example. I’m a huge fan (daft pun intended). I avoid games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars, however, and feel little desire to know what my “fine” is or which Twilight character I most represent.

But what happens when my FB friends play games or take quizzes? When you use an app, an unknown developer could be accessing almost everything in your profile. If your friend takes a quiz, they could be giving away your personal information too.

Until I took this Facebook privacy quiz created by the ACLU of Northern California, I didn’t realize just how much of my information could be shared with strangers – even though I thought my privacy settings were right. The ACLU application was able to pull up my status updates, details from the “info” section on my profile and even a few photos where I was tagged -- including one where I’m wearing reindeer antlers during an ugly sweater party. (Sorry to disappoint you, but I won't post the pic on All Consuming.)

My privacy settings were configured so that only friends could view my profile, but I had neglected to limit what information could be obtained by applications they use.

“The facts of your life are now just another commodity, like corn or wheat, that’s collected and sold. In the world of marketing, knowledge is power,” explains a recent MSNBC article. It includes an interview with the executive director of the World Privacy Forum who describes her own experience receiving a telemarketing call from a store where she did some holiday shopping. Although she never gave the store her phone number, they were able to use her credit card number and zip code to find her.

Marketers are one thing, but imagine what a criminal could do with some of the information people provide online.

There’s also your reputation to consider. According to a study by Microsoft, 70 percent of human resources professionals have rejected a candidate based on what they found out about the person by searching online.

Today is Data Privacy Day, a collaborative effort to educate consumers and businesses about the importance of protecting personal information. The effort has been endorsed by the National Association of Attorneys General through a resolution and Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a proclamation.

“We live in a world of instant communication, which should make us wonder what happens to all the information we send over the Internet,” Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said. “The same technology that makes our lives easier can potentially increase our risk of financial or other harm. Organizations that support Data Privacy Day recognize the importance of helping consumers and businesses to safely and securely navigate the information superhighway.”

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