There's no free lunch, especially on social media

Friday, April 6, 2018

We hate to break it to you, but you may have heard it before.

There’s no free lunch.

Or, as one commentator put it, if the service is free, you’re the product.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is busy doing damage control after it was revealed that a British firm improperly accessed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to help Donald Trump’s campaign.

The scandal has grown to legal against Facebook around the world, including a U.S. Federal Trade Commission probe. Zuckerberg will go before Congress on Tuesday.

We can’t help but wonder whether Trump’s opponent had similar access, and whether there would be a similar uproar had that information been revealed.

Now Zuckerberg admits that the 87 million number is only the tip of the iceberg.

In fact, most of Facebook’s 2.2 billion members have had their personal data “scraped by malicious actors” over the years of the company’s existence.

Facebook and other social media have always walked a tightrope between providing harmless social interaction and allowing criminals to access our personal data.

Short of unplugging entirely, individual users can do a lot to limit opportunities for damage.

The folks at Norton Security offer these tips:

* Treat the “about me’ fields as optional. Just because there’s a blank there, doesn’t mean you have to fill it. Use only your state, for instance, rather than including the city where you live.

* Get acquainted with privacy settings. Privacy settings in Twitter, for example, may not carry over to Facebook if your accounts are linked. In short, if you don’t want a photo to be found publicly, don’t post it.

* Make sure you really know the people you “friend,” in real life if possible. Don’t hesitate to use the “block” feature when it seems appropriate.

* Avoid posting certain information, such as license numbers, Social Security numbers, banking, etc., at all costs. Be careful about posting your location because that could be an invitation for burglary if you’re away from home, or some sort of personal attack if you’re in a vulnerable location.

* Make sure you log out of a public computer always, and even private devices from time to time. An open account is vulnerable to all sorts of mischief, such as posting embarrassing or slanderous comments or changing your password to lock you out.

* Learn how to create a strong, private password, and use different ones for each account. Never write them on the device.

Social media and instant messaging are fun and useful when we want to keep in touch with family and friends. We shouldn’t be surprised, however, that major companies get something in return for providing a platform for such services.

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