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Online Security: Truth or Fiction?

Updated on April 13, 2018
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Peace, harmony, and lifelong learning are Liz's passion. She's outspoken on education and childhood, and is an activist in local politics.

Update:

This article speaks to some extremely serious privacy violations at Facebook.

The concern was real when I first wrote this article, and with the recent developments which have been all over the news in March and April of 2018, the concern now is even more urgent.

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder of the behemoth that Facebook has become, is finding himself under congressional scrutiny for the role the site played, however inadvertently he may claim, in the alleged Russian interference in our 2016 elections.

Apparently, the firm, Cambridge Analytica, used 'fun quizzes' about personality traits; who was your 'best friend' on Facebook; what century you should have lived in, and so forth, to mine user's personal data for political use and gain.

Never again will I click or or participate in any quiz on that site!

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 dystopian type of society: "Orwellian."

We've already suffered plenty of erosions of our liberties, at the hands of politicians playing on fears, whether real or imagined, with such things as the so-called "Patriot Act."

I've been saying for many years, "George Orwell was right: he just got the year wrong."

I did not make any of this up: it was first revealed in a very detailed article back in 2012, 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. Since the world is changing rapidly, '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.

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 any security. Various miscreants have hacked the security firewalls at banks, department stores, even the Pentagon and NASA. 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.

None of this even touches the 'deep Web' or the 'Dark Web,' the domain of government snoops and spies, and anyone truly bent on evil. You cannot just go there and find out what's lurking below the surface. You should not even try,

It's Just So You Can Have Fun, Right?

True enough, Facebook offers 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, and sometimes obnoxious pop-up ads in your face when you are trying to play a game.

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 legalistic BS ...whatever,..." then they scroll to the bottom and click on the 'accept' icon.

What have they signed away? 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 You Can't Eat, But 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 that you 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.

Annoyingly, you'll also come across this verification process on many sites, such as your bank, from your own computer after you've cleared your cache; a maintenance and smoother-running-system operation that should be done weekly, at a minimum, along with backing up your data.

It Gets Worse...

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, even though you would never go there on purpose!

If you are researching information on a health issue, that, too is duly recorded. Do you 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 Very Social, Now, Is It?

Since this corporation originated back in 2004, it has grown into a behemoth mowing down, partnering with, or taking over everything it has encountered, or so it seems.

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 Facebook whenever you visit the page containing the button--whether or not you click the button, and whether or not you, yourself are logged into Facebook!

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 "tagging" utility for pictures uses facial-recognition software like the government uses to ID suspected terrorists or other criminals. In fact, I'm given to understand that the goverment has actually used Facebook for this very purpose; to find people. Talk about an invasion of privacy!

Watch Your Back

It has become more-or-less common knowledge by now that you should be very, very careful about what you post on any of these kinds of sites, whether it's Facebook, or the relatively newer "Instagram" or "Snapchat," collectively known as "social media" sites. A good many 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 Facebook and its software 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." Shades of the NSA!

Like to chill with some games? Go 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 may want permission to make posts on your behalf; it may want to mine your friend list to see who those people are; it may want to access your e-mail as well, to mine those contacts. Most of the games do have the option of turning off access to irrelevant data; some do not. A good many people, I suspect, don't even read that screen, but just click through to play the game. 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.

Privacy Protections Are Available

Yes, Facebook has many levels of privacy protection for you to use. Unfortunately, none of it operates globally, which is to say, your selections do not apply across the board to your entire account and everything you do while on the site.

Instead, you must use several different ways to allow or block certain posts; activities; people; "tagging;" who sees what; and so forth. Is it made this convoluted on purpose, in the hopes the user will get fed up and not bother? I don't know; but it often feels that way.

The Consumer Reports article referenced and linked to earlier in this article does include a video tutorial on using these various privacy tools. The fact that a video is even necessary is, in this writer's opinion, cause for concern.

© 2012 Liz Elias

Comments

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  • DzyMsLizzy profile imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    6 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 

    6 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 imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    6 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 

    6 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 

    6 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 imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    6 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 

    6 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 imageAUTHOR

    Liz Elias 

    6 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 

    6 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."?

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