Users of MySpace, Facebook and Bebo may be compromising their job prospects and leaving themselves open to identity fraud by placing personal information on the social-networking sites, according to the Information Commissioner's Office.
In a survey of people aged 14 to 21, the group found that more than 70 percent of young people would not want a university or potential employer to see the information they post about themselves, yet 60 percent don't consider that the information could turn up in online searches for years to come.
Sixty percent of those surveyed reveal their date of birth online, one in 10 give their home address, and 2 percent reveal their mother's maiden name.
The survey also found that two-thirds of young internet users accept people they don't know to become 'friends' on social-networking sites, and that 70 percent aren't concerned if strangers can see the information they post. That behaviour leaves them ripe for online fraud, the group said, since information they post could be used by identity thieves to order credit cards, products and services.
The results were published the same week that Facebook came under fire for a new feature, called Beacon, that reveals online services that its members have been using outside Facebook. Designed as a marketing tool for businesses, Beacon can show on a member's website the DVDs they have rented at a service such as Blockbuster, for example.
Users are warned when they make a purchase that the information will appear on Facebook, but they have to actively opt out for each service to stop that from happening. An advocacy group called MoveOn.org Civic Action said that's an invasion of privacy, and set up a Facebook group to protest it called "Facebook, stop invading my privacy!"
The push for greater vigilance with personal data also comes after the British government admitted that it had lost computer disks containing detailed personal information of about 25 million Britons.
A spokeswoman at the Information Commissioner's Office said the timing of its campaign was unrelated to those developments. Its new website offers tips for young people to protect their identity online, such as choosing Web sites that let them control who can see their information, not revealing their home address, and not using the same password they use for an online bank account.
The Commissioner's Office published comments that it said were from the people interviewed for its survey. A 14-year-old girl from Scotland remarked: "Initial thoughts -- who cares? Subsequent thoughts - omg!!"