Oversharing: Social Media and the “Personal” Touch of Personally Identifiable Information

From Quick Meme

By: William Cawley (@DigiTrey)

There is always an issue with oversharing, especially as it relates to personally identifiable information, or PII.

Personally identifiable information is data that can be put together with other types of information for the express purpose of identifying or locating an individual.

But how much is too much? That is a hard question to answer.

Dr. Latanya Sweeney, a pioneer in data privacy, once determined that knowing an individual’s birthdate, gender, and ZIP code was enough to identify around 87 percent of people in the United States. (If you are curious, you can check to see how unique you are based on those pieces of information)

This is startling. Well, it was in the year 2000. Things have changed in a decade and a half.

There is much more information available now thanks to social media.

For instance, pictures are a type of PII. This may sound innocuous, but sharing photos on  Facebook has led to the creation of one of the world’s greatest facial recognition software. Its models can recognize human faces with an astounding 98 percent accuracy. Even those not facing the camera directly could be identified.

Beyond that, oversharing can lead to problems with criminals. After all, a combination of knowing where someone lives, knowing they are rich, and knowing they own valuables, can come together to make a person look vulnerable.

This was understood by the people at Please Rob Me, who tried to raise awareness about these problems with oversharing. The website posted some of the most egregious examples of oversharing that read like an invitation to robbery. Unfortunately, they had to shut down in 2010 due to negative feedback in the press.

The lesson was not learned, as a recent home invasion of a famous individual, who tended to overshare on social media, shows.

So where is a good place to start looking for your oversharing habits? Try looking for the following on your social media accounts:

  • Birthdates
  • Phone Numbers
  • Home address
  • Pictures of belongings
  • Vacation plans

If you find them, delete them. Nobody likes too much information anyways.



Harvard Data Privacy Lab. (2013). How Unique Are You? Retrieved http://aboutmyinfo.org/

Sweeney, L. (2000). Simple Demographics Often Identify People Uniquely. Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved from http://dataprivacylab.org/projects/identifiability/paper1.pdf

Higginbotham, S. (2016). Inside Facebook’s Biggest Artificial Intelligence Project Ever. Fortune. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/facebook-machine-learning/

Please Rob Me. (2010). Raising awareness about over-sharing.. Retrieved from: http://pleaserobme.com/

France, L. (2016). Kardashian heist: Police say social media made her a target. CNN Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/04/entertainment/kim-kardashian-police-social-media/


Published by

UNT Eagle Strategies

Class members of the social media class in the Mayborn School of Journalism