Flashy Ads, Surveys, Quizzes, or Sponsored Links
“Celebs you didn’t know passed away.” “The 18 Most Horrific Photos Ever Captured by Trail Cameras.” “23 Woodstock Photos That Will Make Your Skin Crawl.” Teasers such as these convince many to check out the enticing options … leading to what has become a mainstay of online advertising. Click ing through an online advertisement to the advertiser’s page is now a common advertising method of assessing interest and ad profits. Google DoubleClick and other services provide analysis of impact and value of these ads, which may appear as messages, tweets, posts, photos, or other teasers. The ads can also link to viruses or other types of malicious content.
If you see a picture that is just too enticing—could that really be Big Foot?—consider using Google Images or another image search engine to scope it out. Use a screen capture program to copy the image and drag the screenshot into the search field. In many cases, you may just get information on the image and a URL location that you can check out without initiating cookies with questionable websites.
Games, contests, polls, and quizzes are common teasers, often requiring that you sign up to get the advantages offered ; however, in so doing, you may actually be giving permission to access your social media profile or commercial accounts in the process. Advertising drives web development and online commerce today. You are responsible for your own safety. No matter how attractive these come-ons seem, it’s best to (if nothing else) search for the game or content using your browser.
Invitations to Avoid: Registration by Logging In With Your Social Media Accounts
Many sites, such as ResearchGate (researchgate.net), will allow users to login using Facebook or LinkedIn profile IDs and passwords rather than registering with the company itself. This, in effect, links your accounts between systems and potentially allows your social network to share information with this other website. Think about all the information you may have with LinkedIn, Facebook, or other social media. Do you really want to open yourself up to more and more commercial interests? In the worse-case scenario, if any of these linked sites are hacked, all of your information is vulnerable in the attack.
Be sure to check the registration pages for “required” versus optional fields of information. Think about what you are willing to share (or have shared) with others. Many people use pseudonyms or nicknames when registering. Social media and other sites can ask for information (it’s in their favor and potentially an asset they can sell), but there is no requirement that you be transparent in your responses. How often would Facebook really need your phone number?
What Would Your Mother Think?
Today, people often post photos and comments seconds after the event. However, we know that many companies now consider social media postings as a part of their employment application process. Remember that even if you remove something from your own Facebook page or other site, the content isn’t necessarily gone. It may have been copied, posted, pinned, or tweeted and have a life of its own.
Just as mothers remind their children that clean underwear is important each day just in case you end up in the hospital, everyone should change their passwords often— and not use the same password for multiple accounts. Many experts actually recommend using two-factor authentication/passwords for critical financial or proprietary systems as an extra precaution.
Check Out Your Privacy and Sharing Options on Each Social Media Site
You do actually have some level of control over your social media accounts. Each site has Privacy or Settings options that allow you to see the options for each aspect of your account. Don’t assume that the standard default is your best option—more than likely, it’s the best option for the company providing the service.
The terminology isn’t standard across platforms, and much of it is legalistic in nature. For example, Facebook uses the phrases “Data Use Policy,” “Governance Page,” and “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” on its site. If the Help sections don’t give you enough advice or information to help you decide the best options, use a search engine and search for “privacy settings” along with the name of the service. You will likely find many ideas, explanations, and guidance avail able on the web. Be aware, as well, that these options and software often change, so you should check for update notices or go into the system yourself to check on the settings on a regular schedule. Check news sources for information on announced changes, new features, or reports of data breaches. Even if these sites are free, it’s up to each individual to protect him- or herself.
Today’s social media users have to balance the risks and costs of using these systems with the benefits they provide. There are broad regulations that exist on various levels of government, and companies work to invoke trust in their users. Still, the responsibility rests with each of us.
We are all aware of stalking as a major problem and serious crime. Cyberstalking has been made quite easy due to technology. With geographical location APIs on mobile devices, we can plot our travels, find the closest Italian restaurant, or even locate our phones if they are misplaced or lost. This same information, used in the wrong hands, can allow someone to track you, learn your habits, and potentially lead to disaster. You might want to turn off the geo-tagging on your phone. Check with your user guides, the phone store, or search the web for details on how this feature works on your devices.
Best advice: Control your impulse to over-share information on your activities. Wait until you get home from that trip to share pictures or daily reports on your activities. Any play-by-play accounts of your itinerary may lead to home break-ins or other crimes.
Signing up for free services in particular gives certain rights to the website in return for your use. One of these is a right to track your activity while you are on a company’s site, such as your movement across its webpages, your likes, click- throughs, comments you make, messages you write, what you share and with whom, and any other activity. Perhaps you’d prefer the service didn’t have access. What are your options? Facebook, for example, allows you to see its Facebook Ad Preferences, and you can opt out of its tracking/ads program by going to your preferences in the database. Other social media sites have similar information posted. If finding this information isn’t straightforward, try an internet search to get guidance.
Privacy in the 21st Century
Working with researchers from Cornell and the Univer sity of California, Facebook used newsfeeds from nearly 700,000 of its members to study whether it would be possible to affect their emotions (pnas.org/content/111/24/8788.full). Apparently pleased with the results, an open access article was published on these findings. However, there was never any consent, any foreknowledge, any apparent consideration of the willingness of Facebook members to participate in this experiment.
Fake news and deliberate efforts at misinformation not only marked the last U.S. presidential election, but could compromise the utility of the internet. Even the head of the FBI, James Comey, recently recommended that everyone follow his lead and tape over the webcam on your computer to prevent uninvited viewing of your home, office, or you.
The European Union continues to lead in the area of privacy, with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel recently “demanding” that Facebook and Google reveal its privately developed algorithms to the public. This would be a major advance for information professionals if finally the wizard behind these search engines was revealed! In an October 2016 BBC.com article (bbc.com/news/technology-37798762), Merkel contends, “The big internet platforms, via their algorithms, have become an eye of a needle which diverse media must pass through to reach users. This is a development that we need to pay careful attention to.” Indeed!
Last October, the Federal Communications Commission issued new rules to better protect your online privacy, requiring that users be allowed to forbid internet providers from sharing sensitive personal information (app/browser histories, geolocation data, etc.). It was a 3-to-2 split decision, and with the new administration coming in, we will see if this protection survives reassessment and a new commission structure.
Attorney Theodore Claypoole believes that government will be forced to take a stronger role in regulating this new form of commerce and communication. He writes: “As social media sites evolve to make the dissemination of information easier, our society is beginning to recognize the problems inherent in such dissemination, and the use and protections to which such information is entitled” (americanbar.org/publications/blt/2014/01/03a_claypoole.html). This would be welcome news not only for information professionals but people everywhere.