Tweet, Tweet, Tweet, I don’t see any Birds!

2013 November 2013 Señior Tech

By Señior Tech from the November 2013 Edition

Everyone is talking about social media; but what is it? Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest are some of the best known social media sites. They all want you to come to their sites and stay there.

Why? Because you, or rather your data is worth money to them. I ’ll borrow a quote I read online recently: ‘If you’re not paying for it; you are the product’. All these companies make their money from advertisers who are their customers, your data is the product they sell.

It is hard to resist the free services offered, such as watching cats playing a piano on YouTube, or staying in touch with family and friends on Facebook. So really what difference does it make if they (social media websites), make money off my privacy when they offer great services for free?

There are other considerations with sharing your private data. The biggest consideration in my opinion, is security. All sites have a privacy policy, which you should review to see what information they collect and what they do with it. These policies change, so you will have to be vigilant. Privacy policies are required by law, but these sites can be anywhere in the world, so the laws of the country they are registered in will prevail.

Okay, enough boring stuff! Each site allows you to set the information others see in their Privacy Settings. But as I said, these sites sometimes change their policies. For instance my wife Señiora Notsotechie, had set her Facebook postings to be read by friends and family only. A few years back, Facebook changed their privacy policy and my wife started getting emails from people she had not heard from for years, including suppliers. Facebook had gone to Microsoft Outlook on her computer and sent messages to all her contacts. The outcry from millions of Facebook’s users made them change their policy back, and their founder apologized. Google has also had to beg forgiveness from their “products” (the people using Google Services) on a number of occasions for stepping over the privacy line.

My privacy is set so only the people I want to see my posts, see them. I never allow ‘anyone can see’ as one of my settings. I am not here to tell you what settings you should set, you are adult and can determine what information you want others to see.

I mentioned Security; there are scammers that scour social media sites for users that leave their posts open for all to read. But why would these posts interest these nefarious individuals? An example: someone leaves a post that they are going on a vacation, their “friend list” shows all their friends and family, their profile shows their age, and city. If they are out of the country, Grandma gets a muffled call from someone claiming to be their grandchild, and then the caller is someone claiming to be an official saying they need a couple of thousand dollars so their children can fly home. They will ask that the grandparent use a money transfer, and of course, once sent their money is gone. Or if the scammer is in the same city, they know where they can go burgle a house or apartment in safety. So what may seem to be innocent comments can translate to opportunities for crooks.

Some tools social media sites use to track you on the internet are the “Like” buttons. Once you “Like” a product or service or whatever, a tracking cookie is set to follow your movements online, even if you leave the site you set the “Like”. Another trick employed is a checkbox that says keep me logged in. It does not matter how many times you uncheck that box, the sites recheck it the next time you login. The reason they want you to stay logged in to their sites is to let them track your movements online.

The privacy issue? Since you do not know who the search engine company has as customers, do you want your insurance company to know that you are searching for information on Diabetes? Over five years ago, an American newscaster was able to track a person to their home by following their online searches. I was surprised to find (or really, not find) any references to that story searching for identity found from search or a number of other permutations. I did however find interesting reading on Wikipedia, search for “Criticism of Google”.

But read this only if you really want to know, sometimes ignorance is bliss.

It is unfair to single out Google and Facebook, I believe that all social media sites use these methods to monetize their operations. After all who wants to be a millionaire, when they could be a billionaire.

So the next time you are on Twitter and you think you hear a tweet, it maybe because they are watching your online activities like a hawk.


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