Posted by Jacqueline Beauchere
Director, Trustworthy Computing Communications, Microsoft

We've all encountered them: people who after five minutes of meeting feel compelled to tell you the vivid details of their relationship woes, family traumas or financial hardships. In one-to-one or small-group settings, such conversations make us uneasy at best. More likely, they leave us itching to slink away and find less of a "drama queen" to chat with.

But, when this kind of oversharing takes place online, the consequences can be far more serious. One solution:  shout “Digital T.M.I."—Too Much Information. You’ll probably save other recipients discomfort, and you may even help to stave off graver repercussions for the sender.

A Microsoft study on social networking showed 69 percent of American parents are “very” or “somewhat” concerned their child has a social networking account—a prime Internet venue where oversharing takes place. Other worldwide research bears similar results. At last month's Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Nairobi, Kenya, Global Systems for Mobile Communications’ Association (GSMA), a coalition of mobile operators and related companies, released a preview of its third annual study on the use of mobile phones by children in eight countries: China, Cyprus, Egypt, India, Japan, Paraguay, South Korea and Mexico.

The survey showed mobile phone ownership levels as high as 94 percent among youth in some countries, and higher than 50 percent in all geographies polled. And, parents' primary concerns? Overuse by children and privacy issues, according to GSMA. The survey’s full results will be released next month.

The knock-on effects of such oversharing have been confirmed.  Kids—and adults—may think they're simply "getting their feelings out" when they post highly sensitive or personal information. Or, they say they're just "joking" when they upload questionable content to their social networking sites. In reality, they could be jeopardizing their reputation, future and perhaps even their safety and well-being.

A Microsoft study released to coincide with international Data Privacy Day in January 2010 showed that 70 percent of hiring managers in the U.S. rejected candidates because of information discovered about the applicants online. Those totals were smaller in the United Kingdom (41 percent), Germany (16 percent) and France (14 percent). Similar anecdotes circulate about young people applying to university or trying to land that coveted first job. And, although much rarer, child predators have been known to lure troubled youth who openly share feelings of loneliness, sadness or misfortune – a process known as online "grooming." 

October’s National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) is a great time to adopt safer online habits and practices, particularly those that can help protect our reputations and livelihoods. Three easy steps—STOP. THINK. CONNECT.—can help us enjoy the Web in a safer, more responsible way.

  • STOP: Before going online, learn about the risks and how to avoid potential problems.
  • THINK: Pause and consider how what you're about to do online may impact you, your family or friends.
  • CONNECT: Enjoy your Internet experience, knowing that you’ve taken some very important steps to help protect yourself and your loved ones.

In-person "T.M.I.s" are likely to continue, but with STOP.THINK.CONNECT., we can do our part to reduce digital T.M.I.s. For more information on protecting your online reputation, or to learn about other online safety topics, visit www.microsoft.com/security, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.