Security and Privacy

A lot has been written concerning Internet security and privacy.  There is no doubt that there are lots of scams and cons our there on the Internet trying to separate you from your money or your personal information.  There are many stories that have been circulating about how people have had their identity stolen or compromised.  Some are true, some are urban legends.  You may conclude that you are unwilling to use the Internet because of these issues.  Don’t do that.  The facts are that the Internet is three things:  Powerful, Dangerous and Necessary.

The internet has transformed how we connect and do business in the world.  You can find resources and information that 30 years ago would have been much more difficult to find, if at all.  What used to take weeks of research, sending mail back and forth, making phone calls, going to the library can now be done in a fraction of the time in the privacy of your own home or office.   Making connections with people and organizations is as easy as a Google search and a click on a mouse.  The Internet has become one of the most powerful innovations in the history of the world for connecting people and disseminating information.

It comes, however, with a price.  Just as the Internet can be used as a force for “good”, it can be used for nefarious purposes as well.  Without due diligence in what you post on websites, social media sites, e-commerce, you run the risk of compromising your finances and personal privacy.  You can’t be a trusting soul and give out information without considering the consequences and potential ramifications.  Most of us have received the spam to get the money from the Nigerian back account if you supply your bank account number.  This one is pretty obvious.  But what about the online video games where they ask your name, age, and address before you are allowed to play?  That seems harmless enough, but it could be possible to harvest this information for other purposes such as targeted advertising, or worse, identity theft.  Should you not use the Internet because of this?  I think not.  Should you not play this particular video game?  That is a personal decision you will have to make.

One organization that has gotten a lot a press about privacy is Facebook.  The purpose of Facebook is to help you find and connect with other people.  With a user base of close to 500 million people, it is a very powerful tool.  Of course, to help you find other people, it will need information.  Some things, like your name, are required.  Some of the information is optional and you can choose to provide that information or not.  Realize that the more information you provide, the more connections you will have, but it may be possible to compromise that information.  Facebook has privacy settings that you can set and you should use this feature to decide what you want provided without your consent.    If you don’t want your date of birth or phone number available, then don’t provide it.  If sites want information that you aren’t comfortable providing, then don’t use those sites, or just give that information you feel is necessary.  Facebook is an example of a very powerful tool to connect with others and get your organizations presence and message out there.  But you have to be diligent and proactive in deciding what you want to provide.

You may think that the best solution is not to use social media or websites because of the privacy concerns.  That is very short sighted thinking and somewhat unrealistic.  The fact is, the Internet with its websites and social media options is the way of communication in the 21st century.  It is every bit as powerful as Gutenberg’s printing press, Bell’s telephone and Ford’s automobile in changing forever the landscape of how we live and interact.  Just as these three things are necessary to get along in this world, so is the Internet.  And just as one had to make adjustments in using these things in a safe and responsible manner, the same rules hold true for the Internet.  Common sense and a small dose of skepticism will be needed to protect you and your organization, but the rewards will be more that worth it.

Here are some further links for reading on privacy and security issues:

7 Things to Stop Doing Now on Facebook

Making Facebook Control Simple

EFF Top 12 Ways to Protect Your Privacy

EPIC Online Guide to Practical Privacy Tools