Why sharing too much online can be a costly mistake

The internet is a vast, wonderful, dangerous place, and we're only beginning to understand the ramifications of things like social media, forums, blogs, and other venues for sharing information about our lives with the general public. You don't want to avoid them completely, but a balance can be struck that will help safeguard some privacy. Even if you use privacy measures like a VPN and other encryption software, they can't help protect what you share willingly.

Why is sharing information online a problem?

Say you're a frequent user of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You've customized the privacy settings so that only certain people can find you, and you've set it up so not everyone can read what you're posting.

However, we've all seen many examples of tweets and posts that shared way too much information, and once they're online, they don't disappear. Even deleting social media posts or blog entries doesn't entirely ensure that they're gone, thanks to initiatives like The Internet Archive.

A simple screengrab can be easily shared and just as damaging, and if the content of the picture is enticing enough, it might make its way into the broader streams of the internet and be seen by a lot more people. Potential employers often check out social media streams before they make a hire. (Avoiding taxes will also be much more difficult if a history of your spending is recorded online.)

The next time you're about to share something over a public medium, no matter how you've tweaked security settings, remind yourself that what you're sharing will likely live somewhere on the internet forever.

A list of information you should never share online

With the idea that what you share will exist forever in some databank, here are some bits of information that should never be shared publicly:

  • Passwords.
  • Date of birth.
  • Where you live.
  • Where you work or study.
  • Where you grew up.
  • Names of family members.
  • Credit card or other banking information.

While some of this information doesn't really mean a lot on its own, if combined, it can be quite damaging. Secondary security questions you forgot you set up might be cracked, and then you're dealing with compromised accounts and identity theft. You might even attract some people who are interested in more than just following you around.

One more thing to look out for is sharing high-value items. Sure, you might have finally bought that big item you've been saving up for and want to share it with friends, but you're sort of making yourself a target, especially if location sharing is enabled.

Just look at the Kim Kardashian example, where she was robbed in Paris after posting photos of expensive jewelry.

As a rule of thumb, next time you share something on a blog or on social media, imagine it being seen by everyone. That's a lot of views and, if you're excited about everyone seeing it, you're probably alright posting it.

Best practices for other information you share online

With the idea in mind that everyone might see what you post, also remember that it can be seen in the future. Like, 10 years down the road. Will your political views remain the same? Will those less-than-flattering pictures of you from a high school or college party help you get hired for your dream job?

Managing a responsible, active social media persona is a lot of work. Each bit of information should be thoughtful and shouldn't share too much. If you're thinking about starting a blog, or you're an active forum member on your favorite website, remember that you need to be just as cautious about oversharing.

The best way to ensure you're not sharing too much online is to take matters into your own hands. Don't rely on privacy settings of individual platforms, but take an active stance on what you choose to share online.

More resources

If you're concerned about privacy online, we put together several roundups of ways you can protect yourself.

Cale Hunt
Senior Editor, Laptop Reviews

Cale Hunt is formerly a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full-time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

  • I know exactly why this article is on here!!!! While that data shouldn't be shared online I gaurantee that at some point that data will be online, maybe split across various sources but it is there.
  • What are you talking about?
  • What don't you get, your data can be found online regardless. We've already seen how easily Healthcare Services can be compromised and they have all that data in one place.
  • I don't understand you bro.
  • You forgot a big one - vacations. You really shouldn't be sharing trips or vacations of details of any kind....details, when and where you are going, etc. Its very easy to track someone on a vacation, and steal lots of stuff, even from their own home while you are gone. I had a friend that this happened too, A friend of a friend of a shady friend on facebook was browsing when someone went on vacation, and broke into their house! Afterwards, they just said 'thanks' on the other person's facebook, but they couldn't prove anything.....
  • That's perhaps the most important one. Disabling geotagging on photos is also going to help with that.
  • I don't need to see your Facebook to know who your tailor is, it's that one that does the tin foil hats, right? We're not quite in that dystopian future yet. Somebidy will need to know where you live, when you are on vacation, be close enough to use that knowledge, AND know it before you come back from vacation in order for the knowledge to be if any use. If somebody in Texas knows you were on vacation, last year, by your social media pages it won't do much harm, especially if you live in New York. Most geotagging us also useless to people if you upload you pictures once you are back. Then people only know were you where, nit where you are.
  • You wouldn't believe how stupid some people are. No body just posts pics when they get back. They make announcements about their 'big' trip, or graduation, or birthday event, whatever....  Like I said the way facebook, instagram, etc works....you just have to be connected to that person, and that person be connected, and you'll see nearly everything....you could really learn alot about friends of friends by just simply following their daily posts, Them going to starbucks on a regular daily basis..announcing that they just got a new job in xyz company over in such and such county.....shady people, especially smart ones can easily find out and plan somethiong big just from a little work..... For example....person that has a birthday, announces it, and showcases some 'presents' they got....a new laptop, tablet, PS4 whatever, and post about how much they like it, blah blah, you follow them, and see a post about a party they are going to goto, and because you all goto the same school, or work at walmart or whatever you know their schedule......and there u go.... Its exactly why I don't use any Social Media.....I don't need people knowing where I go, who I'm friends with,  etc....
  • Hey, great point. Scary how easy it is to figure out where people are...
  • How about you just don't use social media and you won't have this issue in the first place?  
  • Avatar of apathy lives in a cave......in 2017.
  • It's not just social media that this information can be gained from though, as I mentioned above Healthcare Services store a lot of this information as well and we've seen how easily they can be compromised.
  • Yeah, once i participated on some Windows Central prize thing (post a photo). The contribution had to be via Twitter... bad idea, got spammed alot afterwards by some vague parties. 
  • "Stuff never to be shared publicly". So that's pretty much all the stuff people put on Facebook..... lol
  • Unless you edit the privacy settings, something that not many people do though.
  • Agreed. Though FB having your info means it is pretty much public info
  • That's true, the problem is that Facebook set ALL information as public by default. If they made the information only visible to you to start with then it wouldn't be much of an issue. However Facebook have a terrible approach to how they handle personal data once it is on their servers.
  • I'm really disappointed that photo GPS metadata was not addressed.
  • What about the obvious, don't post dirty it drunken pictures.
  • On a side note it bothers me that Facebook shows when you were last online, at least the messenger part does. You literally cannot ignore someone without them knowing.
  • I hate social media.
  • yes I had tell my mom  please stop tell facebook and ever body else I was here and here etc ha