Friday, November 30, 2007

Fulfilling the unlived life

Australian media reports that according to a new study, two-thirds of Australians were more likely to share personal information with other people on the Internet than they would in person. Just over half of Australians published three or more types of personal information on blogs, social networking sites or online shopping sites, while a third published their home address and two thirds revealed their real name.

Two-thirds of respondents also said people post personal information online without thinking through the possible consequences. Australians are more trusting online than in person — and it's putting them at risk.

Australians are facing an online identity crisis, using the web and social networking sites to unleash their alter egos, new research suggests.

Woolcott Research and was commissioned by Internet security firm Symantec to conduct the survey. It found Australians typically had more than 10 virtual identities. They included profiles on sites like MySpace and YouTube, email accounts, game avatars and characters in virtual worlds.

"This is what we used to call multiple personality disorder," said Andrew Fuller, a clinical psychologist and fellow of the University of Melbourne's Department of Psychiatry.

Andrew Fuller said the relative anonymity of the Internet encouraged people to be more open with their character, particularly in sites devoted to social networking, dating or gaming.

"Their online profile is more about who they would like to be, rather than who they really are," Dr Fuller said.

Symantec, says criminals could use information found in online profiles to commit fraud in the real-world ("identity theft"), or for social engineering.

Symantec regional consumer business vice-president David Freer said the biggest step towards preventing identity theft was education and that users should be wary of which details they provide online.

"Our internet security threat reports have seen the number of attacks double over the last six months," he said.

More than 2 billion deceptive messages attempting to elicit personal information from users – known as phishing attempts – had been detected so far this year, Mr Freer said.

"We suggest to people that they really look at what they're sharing online. Do you really need to put the information up online that you have?," he said.

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