Tag Archives: MySpace

Online privacy vs. the need to share

I’ve been on the fence about social networking lately. To what extent does it allow us to connect, reconnect and share, and to what extent does it give far too many third parties access to our personal lives?

And when I say “social networking,” let’s have it out in the open: that means Facebook. I mean, it’s possible to overshare on Twitter, but most tweets amount to inane babble that doesn’t reveal much about anything. It’s possible to overshare on MySpace, but that would require people to still be using MySpace when, in general, they’re not. It’s all about the Facebook these days.

Sure, Facebook can be fun. You can find people you haven’t seen in years. Share photos. Make flippant remarks about everything (this is mostly what I do there).

But I think the company is cocky sometimes. They have been guilty of assuming that, just because you want to share a photo with your friends, you automatically want to share it with literally every single person (and company) with an Internet connection. I also heard they were predicting 750 million, then 1 billion, users before too long, after they hit 500 million. Sorry. It isn’t going to happen. Facebook has been the king for a few years, but if there’s one rule on the Internet, it’s that nothing lasts forever. Unless you’re Google, apparently. I digress.

If you still want to use Facebook rather than be an early un-adopter and delete your account, I think it’s okay to do so, but you have to keep a few things in mind. You can’t just click everything that shows up on your screen.

Privacy Settings

Check your privacy settings every now and then. The safest method is to set everything on “Friends Only.” That mostly locks other people out, as far as viewing your photos and reading what you post.

Whenever Facebook introduces a new feature, new layout, or other big changes, it’s a good idea to re-check your privacy settings. In the past, “new look” usually meant “we changed all your settings back to the default, which is everybody in the universe can see everything you post.” A major update just came out, or is about to; I can’t even tell anymore. At any rate, check your settings regularly, just to make sure.

Regardless of settings, your name, location and profile photo are still visible, though. Keep that in mind. Also, if you use any “Facebook apps” (games, etc.), the publishers of those can also access your information. Which brings us to…

Applications/Games

Here’s the short version: just don’t do it. Farmville. Mafia Wars. Happy Aquarium. Farm Wars. Happy Mafia. Whatever. Just avoid them.

See, the problem with these applications is that they are created by third-party vendors, not Facebook itself. While Facebook has a privacy policy in place with regards to your information (bad PR pretty much forced their hand), these other companies might be a little more…free…with your info. It’s better to keep a tighter watch on who has your data.

Plus, these games are just a massive waste of time. You can’t tell me those hours wouldn’t be better spent away from your computer.

Other Things You Can Click On But Shouldn’t

It’s not all just apps and games on Facebook, either. There are always a million things showing up in your friends’ status feeds, often with accompanying links.

Here’s your first rule: there is no app that will tell you who has viewed your profile. It doesn’t exist. There are, however, scams that use this promise to give crooks access to your profile.

Here’s another one: any combination of words like “OMG,” “this really works,” “five things,” or scandalous videos depicting a celebrity currently huge with teenagers (Justin Beiber is the soup du jour), is not going to lead you to what it says it will lead you to. It’s called “likejacking,” and I’ve written about it before.

One more: your friend is not stranded in London, having been mugged. Someone has hacked his account and is trying to get you to wire money overseas.

Basically, if you’re using Facebook for anything beyond connecting with friends, you’re opening your information up to third parties. Some of them just want to advertise to you. Others want to steal from you.

Okay, it’s probably okay to “like” your favorite band’s official page in order to stay updated on new releases and tour dates. And it was funny when that pickle got more fans than Nickelback.

But, really, is all of this necessary? My goal would be to spend less time on Facebook, not more. I started using the Internet in 1995, and I’ll be honest: I’ve gained some weight over those 15 years. I can’t help but wonder if I’d be more fit now if I’d done more face-to-face social networking, and less BBQ-potato-chip-to-face social networking while sitting in front of a computer screen.

Gift card scams and Facebook

It seems that gift card scams are the latest thing to make Facebook completely unenjoyable.

As if all the dumb games and virtual gifts weren’t accomplishing that well enough on their own. I’m just sayin’.

Basically, the gift card setup involves fake pages promising $1,000 gift cards to places like Ikea, Best Buy or other large retailers. These “fan pages” take you to other websites that harvest personal information, sometimes including account numbers. I think you can guess what happens next.

The scams are advertised through spam, compromised Facebook accounts, and by legitimate friends who think they’re helping you get hip to a great deal.

This whole scheme is just another appearance of that old Internet myth that companies just give millions of dollars away online. Folks, it just ain’t true. By the time Facebook’s admins found the Ikea gift card scam page and took it down, there were over 70,000 “fans.”

If the offer were real, than means Ikea would have had to send out $70 million worth of free gift cards. I’m not sure how much you know about capitalism, but in a profit-driven business environment, one of the things you don’t do is give people $70 million just for clicking “Join This Group.” In fact, what you’re shooting for is for people to give you their money in exchange for a product or service (preferably more than said product or service cost you in the first place). Okay, “Econ 101” is dismissed.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t use Facebook at all (give me another three months and I may change my tune). However, this is what I recommend you do:

  • Use it to connect with current friends or people you lost track of.
  • Keep your privacy setting pretty strict (unless you’re a public figure, in which case you should create an “Other Public Figure” fan page; save your personal page for your inner, inner circle).
  • No farm or aquarium or other games (these give outsiders access to your profile, and they’re a massive waste of time).
  • Um, leave your exes alone. There’s a reason your paths diverged. This tip isn’t about fraud prevention. This is just “How to Not be Demented and Sad.”
  • When I say “connect,” I mean “use Facebook as a communication tool.” I’ve been known to post videos, but it’s more fun to actually discuss things. Sending each other virtual donuts just seems like a waste of life.
  • Avoid fan pages. Do you really need to be a fan of a quote from a movie? Why not just work that quote into what you type? Only join fan pages for entities you actually want updates from or communities you wish to be a part of.
  • Avoid anything that includes clicking a button that says “Allow Access” or something similar. Clicking those buttons gives third parties access to your profile information.
  • Any person or page on Facebook offering free gift cards from major retailers is setting you up for a scam. Remember that. Double-check all legitimate-sounding offers with official company websites (usually “[nameofcompany].com”).
  • Assume everything you post can be viewed by everyone in the Universe. Don’t trust those privacy settings. I’ve still got some questions about those.

Overall, I think Facebook is heading the same direction as MySpace: it starts out fun, becomes excruciatingly bad almost overnight, people (the ones over age 25, anyway) get annoyed and start abandoning the site.

Criswell Predicts: one year from now, people will be sick of Facebook and it will have fallen sharply from its #2 worldwide traffic ranking. Interacting with people in person may even become a trend!

Remember that Facebook phishing email? There’s a MySpace version, too.

We all knew it was coming. Below is the full text:

From: Manager Stephan Goldman
To: [incorrect email address] 
Date: Thursday, January 07, 2010 9:02:10 AM 
Subject: MySpace Password Reset Confirmation!

Hey [incorrect username] ,

Because of the measures taken to provide safety to our clients, your password has been changed.
You can find your new password in attached document.

Thanks,
Your MySpace.

Attached was a file called “MySpace_document_49792.zip” that recipients would be advised to not touch with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole. Whatever’s in that ZIP file, you don’t want it. Trust me on this.

Once again, social networking sites are never going to email you a new password, and in general aren’t going to email you files at all.

Who the heck is “Manager Stephan Goldman?”

Anyway, delete this garbage if you receive it, okay?

Your biggest security vulnerability, according to the World’s Greatest Hacker

Kevin Mitnick was a hacker before hacking was even illegal. He was famous for having broken into the computer networks of some really large companies. He didn’t make a single dime from his activities; he just wanted to prove it could be done. He was eventually arrested, convicted and given a harsh five-year sentence, served in solitary confinement because the judge was convinced Mitnick could “start a nuclear war by whistling into a pay phone” (source: Wikipedia).

Later, he was released from prison and started a security consulting business (Mitnick Security Consulting, LLC), and now gets paid by companies to break into their computer systems and tell them what they need to fix.

Since he’s no longer dangerous (many argue that he was never all that dangerous, in the “this guy wants to destroy the world” way the prosecution claimed), Mitnick has also become a popular conference speaker. He knows the single biggest security flaw in every single commercial or private computer system, including yours:

It’s the people.

Time and again, Mitnick bypassed high-tech means of hacking (using software to force his way into a system) in favor of low-tech hacks: calling people on the telephone and asking for information.

It’s called social engineering, and it amounts to tricking people into giving away information simply by talking to them.

Mitnick concentrates on corporate network security, teaching businesses how to keep their data safe. However, the same goes for your own personal online safety: you are the weak point. How public have you made the names of your pets, your birthdate, your children’s names and birthdates, or the school(s) you attended? (I’m looking at you, MySpace and Facebook users.) All of this information can be used to steal your identity, by providing a would-be thief with enough information to talk you into accidentally revealing too much information.

Mitnick’s business card, a miniature lock-picking set, has become quite famous these last few years. Look at his website again, under the “Get Kevin’s Business Card” section. It says “Send your IP address and password to:” and his address. It’s obviously meant as a sly inside joke, but I wonder how many people actually mail this information to him.

Online Scams Epilogue: How to actually make money on the Internet

So, how do you make money on the Internet?

Perhaps I’ve given the impression that it can’t be done, but that’s not true. However, the answer may not be what you want to hear.

Basically, you have to have something or create something that other people want, and figure out how to deliver it over the Internet.

The easiest way is the most obvious: sell things on eBay. If you have a supply of antiques, collectables or anything else lots of people desire, create an eBay account and go for it. It’s probably not going to be a full-time career or bring you millions of dollars (unless you’re extremely shrewd), but it can be a source of income that doesn’t involve a ton of work on your part.

Other than that, you pretty much have to create something. If you make things by hand, there’s a site called Etsy that allows you to put up a “store” for your wares. Again, it’s probably not going to be a career, but it’s a way to leverage a hobby into extra income.

The blogging world has some success stories. A lot of sites (I Can Has Cheezburger? comes to mind) that have become cultural icons are essentially using a fairly standard blog format. They mostly generate income through advertising revenue (and some of them get book deals later on).

It’s tough to do, but it can be done. Remember; Google, Yahoo!, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter were all created by small groups of people with ideas for sites people might like.

So that’s how you make money on the Internet: create content that people want, or sell a service or product. Perhaps there was a time when putting up a page with nothing but paid links to other sites would have worked, but those days are long gone. The Internet just isn’t “neat” enough anymore, in and of itself, for that sort of thing to work. You’ve got to create your own business on the Internet. It’s not easy, and you might fail over and over, but I hear it’s a pretty sweet life when it works.