Should you have an "Internet Birthday"

A long time ago* on a Usenet newsgroup far far away, a group of friends put together a website gallery of regular posters to the group. One of the things included the person’s birthday - ostensibly so that everyone else that posted to the newsgroup group who remembered to look at the site would wish you happy birthday.

For some reason, there was a transcription error when my birthday was posted on the site. Rather than bothering to have it corrected, I went with it and since then I called that day my “Internet” birthday because people still kept wishing me happy birthday on that day and my real birthday is at a crappy time of the year anyway and it was nice to be remembered and so on.

I’m kinda glad that happened now, because if someone was searching the Internet for my DOB in some sort of identity theft racket, they’d most likely end up with incorrect data about my DOB.

This is not something that has occurred to much of the Facebook generation.

As I’m sure all of you are aware - a lot of people post their birthdays as part of their profile on social networks such as Facebook. They do this because one thing you quickly learn about social networks is that when everyone is reminded that today is your birthday, a whole lot of people remember to actually wish you happy birthday. This feels good which is in part why people do it.

The problem with this is that the most commonly used method of verifying a person’s identity when they ring in to their utility, bank, or government call center is Date of Birth. Post your DOB on Facebook and you’re giving people a big piece of the jigsaw that 3rd parties that you deal with use to verify your identity.

Rather than hide your DOB entirely, you could take a different approach. Post an incorrect DOB. That way you still get people wishing you happy birthday (I still get happy birthday wishes for that incorrect date more than 15 years later) and you flummox identity thieves who are scraping social networking sites for personal data.

If you are lucky, you might even get more cake.


* This was so long ago that the “current” photo of me in that gallery (and if your Bing-Fu is good you’ll be able to find it) still had (a) a lot of hair and (b) a loud Hawaiian style shirt. Now, many years later, I have neither hair or Hawaiian shirts.

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Orin Thomas

Orin Thomas is a contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and a Windows Security MVP. He has authored or coauthored more than thirty books for Microsoft Press, founded the Melbourne System Center,...
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