This was an article I wrote for 2600 Magazine, and frankly, I'm surprised they ran it. It's a little "lame" as "hacker" subjects go, but it covers an important issue that parents especially should be aware of when it comes to their kids being on the Internet. Be sure and read my comment after this article as well.
When is your Internet birthday? Sure, you know what date you were born on. In fact, just about everyone knows. But should they? You might be John Smith (and lost among all the other John Smith's out there), but if you're the John Smith born in 1955 on May 23, then they pretty much know which one is you.
Have you been entering any of those "Internet contests"? The one's that want your life history? It's a good bet they want to track you, and what you purchase on the Web. They ask your Date of Birth (DOB) for a couple of reasons. One of them is to determine if you were born more than 18 or 21 years ago (and are therefore "legal" to contract for goods & services over the Web).
Have you considered coming up with an "Internet Birthday" just to keep them on their toes? It's simple to do. First look up your Astrological Sign. If you were born in May,you are either a Taurus (which came in at the end of April), or a Gemini, which started on the 21st of the month, and continues into June. Since our mythical Mr Smith was born on the 23rd, he would be a Gemini. In order to stay a Gemini, he would claim that his birthday is the 31st - the last day of the month. If he were born before the 21st, he'dclaim May 1 as his birthday. (You Pisces people in February should just claim February 28, and not play with leap years!)
The net is a pretty insecure medium, and three things can pretty much get you into all the trouble anyone wants to get you in. Your name, Social Security number, and date of birth. By using your Internet DOB, Someone might have a harder time causing mischief with your identity if they can't find your real DOB. And if you find yourself in an Internet Relay Chatroom with someone, you're not misrepresenting your astrological sign. (some of these people take it really seriously, and would be very upset if you were misrepresented when they told their astrologer about you)
But most people asking for your DOB these days have no real reason to have it. So there's no real reason to give it to them. Just let them know you're of legal age, and let it go at that. Unfortunately, it isn't that easy, because some of the Form scripts won't get past the CGI (Common Gateway Interface) program that's checking that all the blanks are filled it. You have to fill something in, if only to get past the software.
If your real birthdate is actually the 1st or the last of the month, enough of us poor paranoids will be climbing on your band wagon that they probebly won't be sure it's really you by the time we're through. Offsetting your DOB by a day or two wouldn't hurt, though, and you can just claim it's a typo. Sure, your real date of birth is on umpteen legal documents, and already in the hands of the majority of agencies, credit bureaus, drivers license offices, and what all, but that's no reason to make it easier for the johnnie-come-lately's that might be sniffing the net just now.
If you're not entering data on a Secure Page (with the little locked lock showing around the edge of your browser somewhere), then you shouldn't be entering your real DOB anyway. Parents should especially tell their kids about their Internet Birthday, and that they should let you know whenever anyone has asked them for it. It might just be that Tony the Tiger wants to send a birthday coupon for Frosted Flakes, but it might be someone masquerading as Tony with less than good intentions.
We old 60's hippies used to say, "Just because you're paranoid, doen't mean they're not out to get you". You don't have to give them the ammunition they need to make you paranoid. Have fun on the net, and enjoy seeing who sends you Birthday Greetings on your "Internet Birthday"!
Visit 2600 Magazine.
Attend H2K2 (or HOPE 2002),the fourth HOPE (Hacker's On Planet Earth) Conference, 2002 July 12 - 14.
Besides your Internet Birthday, you should consider the topic of your Mother's maiden name. Since people usually give this information to their bank, this shouldn't be given out casually. I suggest using a masculine first name on the Internet, such as "Eric". If anyone asks about it, you narrow your eyes, grimace, and growl, "Eric brought me up, Eric gets the credit!" Most people will immediately "backpedal", and say, "Hey, didn't mean to touch you off. Sorry, I didn't know!"
Why Eric? It's an old "Monty Python" routine, where the all fellow's pets are named Eric. There's Eric the Dog, Eric the cat, he even has a pet bee. No, it's name is "Eric The Half-Bee", because he had an accident".