Privacy issue with showing tweets on TV

Posted:
25 Apr 2012 - 21:35 UTC.

While watching the coverage of the formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix a couple of weeks ago, Sky Sports ran a segment where they aired tweets on screen displaying the username. The username caught my attention because of the work I do in developing processes to cleanse and match customer details. The username in question contained the person's date of birth.

I think it's a good subject for discussion because it highlights a few things. In an age of identity theft users need to be educated to not have personal details in their usernames \ display names. A date of birth may not seem all that serious by itself, but it's a key component for most your interactions with companies in your day to day life. Your address is easy to get, your more personal details take a bit more effort, but if you volunteer them willingly you're increasing your risk of being a victim of identity theft.

The other bit of interest is whether a company has a duty of care / responsibility to monitor what it shares about you. Sky in this case were somewhat unwittingly advertising a customer's date of birth. It would be almost impossible to raise a complaint to the Information Commissioner for this as the data was public knowledge, but it doesn't mean there aren't steps that can't be taken to mitigate the risks of unintentional breaches.

This isn't aimed as a swipe at Sky Sports, this is intended as an insight in looking at and understanding information that is in plain sight. You can then have a value added service to warn the customer of the situation they unknowingly put themselves in, or to mitigate the risks yourself. I work for a company who strive on going the distance for customers, but should we go as far as educate a customer?

A sample process for filtering could look for numeric sequences in a username. If the segment can be parsed into a valid DDMMYY, MMDDYY, YYMMDD, YYMM, MMYY or MMYY then you should flag it. Overall this might seem somewhat basic, but when you start to look to combine other bits of information, you can build quite a detailed picture of someone, even from public data.

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