A staggering 4.5 million young people would not like a prospective employer or university to see their online profiles without getting a chance to get rid of some of the dodgy content first, according to a survey carried out by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
The extensive survey found that nearly 60pc of those questioned never considered that the information they post online on blogs, social networking sites and chat forums leaves a digital footprint that could very well be accessed a decade or so from now.
In Ireland, the director of the NCTE (National centre for Technology in Education), Gerome Morrissey, estimates there are “probably a half a million young people, between the ages of 13 and 23, online daily,” according to http://www.webwise.ie.
While most profiles on social networking sites can be made private so that only friends can see personal information, the survey found that two thirds of young people accept friends into their network who are complete strangers.
Going further than this, nearly half of those questioned said they left their profiles open for viewing to attract new friends and over 70pc didn’t care that strangers could see their personal, private information.
This online data is not just simple lists of favourite bands or movies: 60pc of young people give out their date of birth, with one quarter revealing their job title and nearly 10pc listing their home address.
David Smith, deputy commissioner for the ICO, said: “Many young people are posting content online without thinking about the electronic footprint they leave behind.
“The cost to a person’s future can be very high if something undesirable is found by the increasing number of education institutions and employers using the internet as a tool to vet potential students or employees.”
On top of this, internet fraudsters could use this personal information to guess passwords and access bank accounts or other sensitive information, says the report.
Ironically, virtually every young person who took part in the survey was concerned that personal information could be used by websites to target them for advertising, but did not seem to be aware of their rights with regard to the privacy policies of individual sites.
By Marie Boran