During a typical work week, I cursorily glance at the news feeds on the social media sites where I have accounts. The goal is to get a quick update on how colleagues, family and friends are doing and what new pictures or articles have been posted. Come the holidays, I have more time on my hands, and often find myself trolling through the very same sites, checking out posts in far greater detail.
A few days ago, while sipping my tea and reviewing what my connections had to say, I noticed a very large number of links, with tantalizing offers “ Find Out WhatYour Name Really Means”, “How Creative are You”, “What Do Your Friends Think About You” …. Needless to say I clicked on a few. Every one of the apps that I drilled down to seemed way too nosy. For example, why would you need to know my date of birth if you are telling me what my name means? What is the relationship between how many children I have and what my friends think of me? There wasn’t even an attempt at subtlety or obfuscation, if I chose not to provide a completely unrelated piece of information, I could not proceed.
So what is the objective? Every time you take one of these quizzes and share results on Facebook or Twitter or wherever else, there is most likely a wealth of information about you and the people you share this information with being thrown into a data bank or multiple data banks distributed all around the globe. With the advances in data analysis software, the earlier obstacles of cost and time are no longer significant; personal profiles coupled with behavioral patterns can be put together very quickly and are worth their weight in gold to advertisers and organizations looking to develop lists of potential customers.
I do not believe it’s possible to protect yourself from providing any information that helps identify you, or completely throttle the avalanche of targeted information sent your way. So what are some of the things you can do to protect your identity and yourself in this inevitably changing landscape?
Invest in a few good ad blockers and keep them updated.
Make sure your malware and virus detection solutions are routinely patched and up to date.
If someone asks you for information that does not appear to relate to the task at hand, question the need for this information, and if you feel uncomfortable with their response, look for other options or providers.
Avoid common passwords across your fun sites and sites where you have assets.
Take reasonable precautions to avoid identity theft.
If you use social media sites to routinely communicate where you are, comment on posts you like, recommend vendors you like, expect to be profiled; the more information you share the greater the chances of being targeted for attention. Expecting security and privacy controls to magically shroud you in an invisibility cloak is completely unrealistic. At the end of the day, the responsibility for managing the balance between communication, convenience and security lies in each individual’s court. So to all my readers my advice for 2016: Share Wisely and Stay Vigilant.