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Online Security: Truth or Fiction?

Updated on May 7, 2012


This article speaks to some extremely serious privacy violations at a super-popular site that nearly "everyone" uses to stay in touch.

They shall remain nameless, because I do not want any ads for them to show up. I'm not supporting what they do, and I don't care to give them any "props." You'll figure out who it is soon enough, but as I said, I'm not going to name them, so I'm going to use some tricks like extra wordiness or e x t r a s p a c i n g in the hopes that the ad-bots will not recognize those items as words or phrases to use as 'keywords.'

This is a test--I do not know whether it will work...

Big Brother

Have you ever read the George Orwell novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four? Published in 1949, it is responsible for the term "Big Brother," meaning governmental snoops. He was looking ahead into an imagined future, the title of the book being the supposed year when society would be transformed to this dark and restricted concept of life. The book's theme also gave rise to the use of the author's name to describe this type of society: "Orwellian."

As we've suffered ever more erosions to our liberties, I've been saying for many years, "George Orwell was right: he just got the year wrong."

If you sit up at your desks and pay attention, now, you can learn what is really going on out there in cyberspace. I did not make this up: it was published in a very detailed article in Consumer Reports, a very reputable magazine that offers objective analysis of consumer goods and services. Since they are subscription based and do not accept advertising, this maintains their objectivity. And since the world is changing, 'goods and services' now also include the virtual world of on-line interactions.

Where Are These Threats?

Actually, the privacy and security threats are all over on the internet, or World Wide Web. (That's what that www. means at the beginning of a web address.)

Despite many security programs and protocols, the truth is, anything you do online is pretty much wide open to anyone who cares to invest the time to break through said security. Various miscreants have hacked the security firewalls at banks, the Pentagon and NASA. No, I don't do my banking or bill-paying online. I still use "snail mail."

But the one type of location at which you should feel relatively safe and secure from such threats as identity theft and spying are the ones designed to let you maintain contact with people you know and are related to.

It's Just So You Can Have Fun

The online site I speak of has many things to do, both useful and recreational. Third-party applications abound, and all of it is free of charge to use. Well, you are not charged money, but the real charge is a tradeoff of your rights to privacy.

Just try and read through the privacy and terms of use statement. It is written in such convoluted legalese that had even the Consumer Reports lawyers shaking their heads at how deliberately obscure and difficult to understand it all was. Most people don't bother to read any of those statements anyway, when signing up to use a site--they just say, "yeah, yeah, yeah. Standard BS ...whatever,..." then scroll to the bottom and click on the 'accept' icon.

What have they signed away? For courts have ruled that typing in your name, clicking on an 'accept the terms' button is as legally valid as your signature on a piece of paper. You've just told them that they can do whatever they want with your information!

Cookies, No Candy

A virus protection program watches for malicious software intended to harm your computer. Cookies are a whole other matter. Every site you visit regularly places these little bits of code into your computer. Yes, Hub Pages does it too. A cookie remembers things like your IP address, your login information, and if you ask it to, your passwords.

If you have ever tried to get into something like your bank account or e-mail from someone else's computer, you've no doubt come across a security check asking to veryify yourself as the person you are claiming to be. That's because your cookies don't exist on that other computer, so the site needs to veryify your information. That much is for your own safety and protection.

However, there are also other types of software similar to cookies that have a much darker purpose. They are called spyware, and they "mine" the information on your computer. They snoop your e-mail contacts list; they monitor all the sites you visit, however briefly. So, suppose one of those annoying 'hover-over' ads pops up, and you accidentally find yourselves on a porn site--yep--it records that as well; or if you are researching information on a health issue; duly recorded. Ever wonder about some of those disgusting spammy e-mails? They probably originated from such spyware. They may take a look at your research for a 'very personal' type of health problem, and 'translate' it to its porn cousin, and bingo! You're slammed with spam!

Some of the really nasty types also log your every keystroke. These are especially dangerous, because they can easily steal your passwords to everything you use online.

Not Really Very S o c i a l of Them, Now, Is it?

Since this huge megalith of a corporation (begun by a snot-nosed 20-something college dropout) was started back in 2004, it has grown into a behemoth mowing down, partnering with, or taking over everything it has encountered. By now, you've probably guessed at the famous and well-used site I'm talking about. Virtually "everyone" uses it daily, and those who don't are almost considered oddities.

The availability is worldwide, but the largest problems are right here at home in the "good ol' U.S. of A." According to the Consumer Reporsts article, it seems the Europeans have better laws concerning privacy online than we do. Our laws for health and financial privacy are very good--even to the point of becoming an annoyance to those the laws are intended to protect. But our privacy online is virtually non-existent.

Every single photo you share and page you "like" is recorded, and dumped into a vast storage server. Just as with the difference between "impressions" and "clicks" on ads, these "likes" and "recommendations" buttons found on other pages and sites are reported back to this one monstrous site whenever you visit the page containing the button--whether or not you click the button, and whether or not you, yourself are logged into that major wesbite!

They are even able to snoop your computer to find photos you did not upload or wish to distribute publicly in any way.

Their famous "t a g g i n g" utility for pictures uses facial-recognition software like the government uses to ID suspected terrorists or other criminals.

Watch Your Back

It has become more-or-less common knowledge by now that you should be very careful about what you post on any of these kinds of sites, collectively known as "s o c i a l m e d i a" sites, for we've been told that employers are now looking into people's posts on such pages to determine whether or not the canididate is suitable for hiring.

Personally, I do not think that is a legitimate use of such websites--what people do in their "off" or personal time is really none of an employer's business, provided it does not affect that person's ability to perform the job for which they were hired.

What is really scary, though, is that this one mega-site is able to track the interests and movements across the internet of people who are not even site members! This is where things get "Big Brother-ish."

Like to chill with some games? Go on ahead. There are plenty of them! But before you play, pay attention to what that game is asking for in order to allow you to play! It want permission to make posts on your behalf; it wants to mine your friend list to see who those people are; it wants to access your e-mail as well, to mine those contacts. Is it worth it? There is really no good reason a game needs all that to work. Not one iota of that personal information is needed for the game to function. All it is, is spying, pure and simple.

You Don't Have to Believe Me...

No, you don't have to believe a word of what I've told you can actually read the entire exposé for yourself.


Submit a Comment

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, alcosin--

    You know what? I think that's a great analogy you came up with. And yes, those darned hackers need to get a life and find something worthwhile to do with their pathetic lives!

    Thanks very much for stopping by with your clever contribution, and for the votes!

  • alocsin profile image

    alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

    I think you have to see the Internet as a giant billboard over the freeway where you can write anything you want but where anybody can see what you write. It seems that every time they come up with something to make the Internet secure, hackers find a way around it. Voting this Up and Interesting.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi there, Green Lotus,

    We do play games and post photos, but the article to which I linked tells you how to go into your settings and deny a lot of the permissions the games force onto you when first logging on to play. You have to leave at least one item checked for the game to work, but you can un-check the boxes for the rest, and that helps.

    With photos, you are given a choice to show them to the public, friends only, acquaintances, etc. Since I already had a good number of photos up before reading this article, it's too late for me to worry about it, but that's why I'm spreading the word.

    It would be great if they can get that bill through Congress without the special interests buying off the politicians as usual....

    You make a good point about the credit agencies. You can write to them, and have it put in your file that no third party credit checks are allowed. That means that no one can go snooping for "likely candidates" for junk mail offers of "a great credit deal" or whatever. You file can only be accessed if the request comes from you, such as when buying a car or some other item you need to buy on time. We took that precaution several years ago.

    Thanks very much for adding to the discussion.

  • Green Lotus profile image

    Hillary 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

    Very timely MsLiz! I never play games either and never post photos, but it's tough to stop others from doing so. I have no doubt that what you say about big brother lurking and gathering information and photos simply because we're logged in is true.

    I did read that the US is working on a bill to better safeguard people's privacy. I do know that Google has been slapped with a massive lawsuit for gathering too much information via the poison cookie. I have a Mac so I feel protected (at least today) against spyware, but that's just a term. Spys are everywhere. My advice is become as savvy as you can against scams and to freeze your credit at the major CR agencies. Cheers!

  • libby101a profile image

    libby101a 5 years ago from KY

    I totally agree! I have an account there, but I put limited information on my profile. It's a shame that these places are allowed to go that far! My Mother lives there!

    I know someone who's account was hacked and the hacker was stealing bank accounts from people pretending to be the woman he hacked...the people posed as a goverment agency paying out huge sums of money for people with disabilities...they tried to lure my Mother! They had a good front too! I'm sure there were some who fell for the trick.

    Sadly, these big sites are taking over everything. You will not see a site now that doesn't have their logo at the top or side.

    Great hub! Thanks for sharing.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, sjwigglywoo--

    Thanks very much for stopping by and sharing your experience. It is irritating, is it not, to be asked for all that personal stuff just to play a silly game?

    Thank you for the compliment and the vote!

  • sjwigglywoo profile image

    sjwigglywoo 5 years ago from UK

    Interesting and informative. I get many requests from friends to play this game or to have some app, however like you said it wants far too much information so I often ignore them. Very well done Big vote up!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, triciajean--

    Thanks much for your contribution. I know what you mean about the younger generation...shoot...I had to chew out my grandson for posting his actual street address in his profile, instead of just his city. Wow--and he's 18--should know better--but it seems today's kids know nothing! :-(

    As for BB, I'm not so sure we're coming out of it. Did you know, for example, that the so-called "Patriot" act actually (illegally) suspended our constitution & bill of rights? If we don't wake up; if we allow the beginnings of the revolt against this crap (e.g., the "Occupy" movement), to die off, we're done for.

    Your quote sounds something like Ben Franklin....I know it was he who, upon emerging from the meeting that formed our constitution, answered the question, "What do we have?" with, "A republic--if you can keep it."

  • triciajean profile image

    Patricia Lapidus 5 years ago from Bantam, CT

    So, true, DzyMsLizzy. I'm probably not as careful as I should be, though I do limit my sharings to those things I wouldn't mind seeing in the newspaper. I'm amazed at how younger people use the site almost like a coffee klatch. But it's a culture with which they are comfortable, for better or for worse. As for Orwell and his dire predictions, these are still a threat but we are beginning to get out beyond "Big Brother." It just takes enough aware people--and your hub helps. Who was it that said, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."?