Worrying about the social media footprint

Judging by comments on this site and at Geekzone, readers are split over online privacy issues.

Some worry about privacy. Others are happy to give away their most intimate details in return for accessing online services.

This is not a judgement. It’s an observation.

Snooping as a business model

Privacy, or rather snooping on people, is the main business model for many social media sites. It also drives Google and, by extension, is central to Android smart phones.

You see how this works when you search for a term online or visit an online store. Often online advertisements for related products can dog you for days. Or sometimes the ads feature unrelated products from sellers who misread your intentions.

In effect, Google gives you a phone operating system, office software, mail or a powerful online search engine in return for being able to watch you.

It’s not just Google. Facebook has a similar business model. Companies like Twitter, Dropbox, Disqus and Reddit track your activity even when you are not on their sites.

Many people are happy with this kind of contract.


Others see it as a Faustian pact.

Some of those who feel comfortable with having their data gathered may feel less secure if they knew how much data is being gathered.

And it may shock those of us who think we are careful not to give much away to learn just how much personal information is stored in big data silos.

Writing at The Overspill, Charles Arthur found he was logged into 11 services. As Arthur notes, that’s despite trying to avoid Google and using a blocker to stay private.

You can find your own social media fingerprint. The site tells you how many online properties are tracking your every move.

Going to the dark side

Even if you are happy to have huge companies pry into your personal business, there is something darker you need to know about. Tracking isn’t that secure. It’s possible for other snoopers to use the various trackers to watch you. They may have more worrying intentions than selling your profile to advertisers.

If crooks can get this data, they may figure out if, say, you are not at home. That’s handy information for burglars. This kind of personal data is also powerful ammunition for a phishing attack.

There’s no need to panic, but take a moment to check what information you are giving away and ask yourself if you always get enough in return. It’s your call, but take care to make an informed decision.

Worrying about the social media footprint was first posted at billbennett.co.nz

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