Protecting yourself on the internet: social media

I was reading an article this morning about one of the founders of Apple, Steve Wozniak, and his crusade against Facebook. Wozniak is quoted as saying that you should get off of Facebook because “there’s almost no way to stop companies from spying on your habits.” Unfortunately, he’s right, however, I’m not sure that bailing on the social media giant known as Facebook is entirely necessary. After a great deal of discussion with some of my colleagues this morning, I’ve come to the conclusion that if you have an affinity to Facebook but also value your privacy, there are some things that you need to know so you can make educated decisions going forward.
I’ve been a member of Facebook for more than 11 years. Having been “socially active” online for so long, you’d think there would be no hiding from the “algorithms” that collect one’s personal online habits. The bottom line is… you can’t… but there are some things you need to know that can help.

• Tip #1: Never put ANYTHING on Facebook thinking that it will be private. I used to have this saying… “Never put anything on the Internet that you wouldn’t want to be public knowledge.” Obviously, that is an overly broad generalization, but I think you get my meaning. If you’re worried about bad guys getting their mitts on pictures of your grandkids, by all means, don’t post them. If you’re going on vacation, don’t announce it on Facebook. That just lets criminals know when you won’t be home. If you’re out of town on vacation (or whatever), don’t post pics until after you return. If you do, you’re just letting the bad guys know that you’re not home and you probably won’t be coming back for a good long while. Also, don’t post your physical address or phone number.

• Tip #2: When you’re done shopping online, clear your cache. A “feature” in most Internet browsers today (Microsoft Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, etc.) collect certain data when you surf the Internet to help speed things up. They also collect something called “cookies” that for the most part are just little bits of information that remember what you looked at while you were on a specific website. What Facebook does is something called “data-mining” where they examine those bits of information (sometimes referred to as “browser history” and then target you for ads on your Facebook page. Here’s an example… You go to Google and do a search for “car vacuum cleaner reviews”. After you take a look at a number of websites related to car vacuums, you open up Facebook and surprise! There are all these ads for car vacuum cleaners that are a “spectacular bargain”. Then for the next several weeks, you keep getting bombarded by car vacuum cleaner ads. It’s a minor inconvenience, but you can clear out all this cached information from your browser and help prevent this from happening. Here’s a great article on how to clear your browser cache:

• Tip #3: Enable all available security measures. Believe it or not, Facebook really does have some pretty intensive security measures built into the platform. Enable as many of them as you feel comfortable with. For example, you can set an option in Facebook that will alert you if someone logs into your account from an unrecognized device (i.e. computer, smartphone or tablet). It will even tell you with a certain degree of accuracy where the device is geographically located. If you get a message from Facebook that someone logged into your account from Korea or Uzbekistan, you can feel pretty confident that it wasn’t you. You’ll receive an email stating this fact and you have an option of ignoring it or letting Facebook know that it wasn’t you and they will boot the offender off of your account immediately. There’s also something called “two-factor authentication”. If you log into your account from an unfamiliar device, they can send a code to your smartphone via text message and then you have to enter that code into Facebook before you can log in. You only have to do that once and then it will remember your browser but as long as you have your phone to receive the code, you’re the only one who can see it.

• Tip #4: Set your visibility to “Friends” and not “Public”. Unless you have an online business or manage a fan page, there’s no need to let the world know what’s going on in your life. If you trust your Facebook friends, then that’s as far as your information needs to go. If someone is trying to find you, give them just enough information on your online profile to be able to positively identify you. The more public your information is, the more chance you have of someone doing some data gathering and figure out how to break into your account. For example, if you make your birthdate public (month/day but no year), and you post the year you graduated from high school, you don’t have to be a PhD to figure out what your full birthday is.

To summarize, the bottom line is that you have to find a level of information sharing that’s you’re comfortable with. Don’t share more than you need to, but share what you’re comfortable with others knowing. This can range from “Wide Open” to “Paranoid”. You can leave your social media account available to the public and take the chance that someone may try to exploit it, or you can lock down your social media accounts to the point that they are nearly unusable, but what fun would that be?