Hello and welcome to Shane Schick’s Computerworld. I am Shane’s assistant editor, Greg Meckbach. Shane will be away for a while. See his most recent post below.
I have two confessions to make. First, I have been a luddite, and did not sign up for Facebook until nearly a year ago, when I joined ComputerWorld Canada and made a profile for our group. The second confession is, I lied about my age to join Facebook. When I joined, I got following message: “Facebook requires all users to provide their real date of birth as both a safety precaution and as a means of preserving the integrity of the site.”
Whatever. My first thought was, “Holy cow, how gullible do you think I am?” Instead of entering my real date of birth, I chose a date in history that’s easy for me to remember. Without going into detail, my fake birthday is more than 30 years prior to my real birthday, which is probably why I keep seeing ads for items like dentures and Depends when I log onto Facebook. When friends and family asked why, I said I would never enter my real date of birth on a social networking site, because that information is highly sensitive. Not because I’m embarrassed to be born on such and such a date, but it’s because security experts at financial companies like MasterCard have decided that the best way to verify the identity of a caller is to ask his or her date of birth. Plus I was a little skeptical of Facebook’s claim that “you will be able to hide this information from your profile if you wish.”
Some would say I was paranoid, but as we reported Thursday, Facebook accidentally made its members’ dates of birth public on its beta site.
This ties into the issue of electronic medical records. One major argument against the entry of medical records into electronic form is the risk of a security breach if it’s not properly encrypted. While this is a valid concern, I would argue a person’s date of birth is actually more sensitive than his or her medical information. Given the choice between having my cholesterol count published on the Internet, and having some fraud artist (who already knows my mother’s maiden name and banking information) find out my date of birth, I’d prefer to get the medical information leaked.
Now, as Mark Steyn would say, I have to add the “of course” clauses. Of course some people have medical conditions that they would rather not be made public. Of course privacy is not the only impediment to the digitization of medical records. Of course it’s difficult to rob a person blind simply by obtaining his or her date of birth. This doesn’t change the fact that when a social networking site asks for your date of birth, it’s kind of like asking for your latest medical records. You just have to hope they’re smart enough to keep this information private.