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The surprising danger of posting personal information online

Others can manipulate you more easily if they have access to personal information such as where you were born and whether you’re married or not, new research has shown.

A research team at the University at Buffalo discovered the link, even if that information isn’t directly used, reports (opens in new tab).

"Just having access to profile information increases their success rate, even when the information is not explicitly being used," says UB communication professor Michael Stefanone, one of the researchers.

In the latest edition of Information, Communication & Society it says that not only marketers can use the personal information you post about yourself online, but also individuals looking for personal gain.

Knowing things about people beforehand, gives you an advantage when you meet them.

"Lying would seem to be the most direct strategy," Stefanone says. "If I know you're from this hometown, I might lie by saying that I am too. We like people we think are similar to us. But we found that people don't explicitly use the information in conversations."

Researchers conducted an experiment with two groups of people. When they had no information about the other, they had a nine per cent success rate at getting their conversation party to comply. With certain information given in advance, the success rate jumped to 42 per cent.

"That's a big statistical difference," says Stefanone. "Our experimental group was four times as likely to succeed as the control group, but analysing the conversations revealed that those who had the information about their partner never explicitly used it. That profile information wasn't part of the conversation."

Sead Fadilpašić is a freelance tech writer and journalist with more than 17 years experience writing technology-focussed news, blogs, whitepapers, reviews, and ebooks. And his work has featured in online media outlets from all over the world, including Al Jazeera Balkans (where he was a Multimedia Journalist), Crypto News, TechRadar Pro, and IT Pro Portal, where he has written news and features for over five years. Sead's experience also includes writing for inbound marketing, where he creates technology-based content for clients from London to Singapore. Sead is a HubSpot-certified content creator.