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Tuesday December 12th 2017

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Safer Computing: Safer Social Media

By David Frier

We live in the age of social media, that’s for sure. Facebook claims over 2 billion people as its users. Twitter is how we first get breaking news, how we know it’s time to turn on CNN or MSNBC to see what happened when the earth moved in Iran, how the Executive Branch of the US government distracts the press and the people from its horrifying agenda.

To keep up with sorta friends from high school, third cousins, and D-list celebs, we give Internet companies startling amounts of information about ourselves and our activities. Not using social media at all is an option, but not one many of us take. I use Twitter 95% in read-only mode. I use Facebook and LinkedIn not at all. I use Google+ more actively, and most of you reading this just went either, “uh, what’s Google+?” or, “I didn’t know anyone still used that!”

The reason I don’t use Facebook or LinkedIn comes down to the privacy nightmare that these social network products are. As the saying goes, “If you’re not paying, you’re not a customer. You’re the product.” Consider that whatever benefit you get from the use of these sites, you pay for it with information about your life, your family, your friends. Everything you post is analyzed in detail that would shock you.

So the least you can do is not to overdo the sharing. Lock down what you place online so that only the audience you intend can enjoy it. It means, in general, going into the Privacy and Security settings, and taking a lot of options that are not the default. Because the products you’re using are guiding you to share and share and share some more. The more you share, the more their shares appreciate.

Here is a roundup of fairly current articles that will guide you how to max out the privacy possible in all the major social media products

Like everything in information security, this is a trade-off. How much you want to protect your privacy vs. how much you want to take advantage of the instant connections and the interest groups you can find in the virtual worlds of social media. Not everyone will choose my complete abstention from “major” networks, and I don’t expect them to.

But one final word: To whatever extent you can live with it, please try not to use these products on your phones. Yes, I know, the spur-of-the-moment selfie or Hey Internet! Look At My Food! moment when you’re out can be irresistible. But every single social media app does much, much more than you visualize with the information you give it by letting it operate on your phone. You location — at all times. Your contacts. Whatever your phone’s camera can see or its mic can hear. Anytime. Please, think about it.

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