What’s Your Digital Footprint?

I’m no Mark Cuban fan, and he’s clearly trying to sell his app in this video, but he does give solid advice about being in control of your digital footprint, which, in basic terms, your online “permanent record”. I’ve mentioned in a previous post how your old profiles, accounts, and journals persist long after you’ve forgotten about them, and that’s exactly the type of digital footprint that can lead to your personal information being leaked or stolen. We tend to think we’re relatively safe online. For the most part we are, but only due to the fact that there are millions of netizens online, making your information arbitrary or unappealing by way of obscurity. That’s no reason to be careless.

While our governments and systems aren’t as dystopian as Cuban suggests (at least not yet), you can seize control of your digital footprint. Potential employers and other interested parties will be looking for your online, especially on social media. Armed with this knowledge, you can shape the way people view you by being mindful of what you post, when you post, and where you post on social media sites. Remember the old mantra about making a first impression? Your digital footprint is your first impression for everyone who cares enough to look for you; it is up to you to put your best foot forward. While you’re not around, your online profiles are your stand-ins. Here are a few things to be mindful of:

1. Usernames: Pick something appropriate. If you want your online social life and work life to be separate, use different usernames.
2. Language: Use proper communication, be respectful, and don’t assume no one’s looking. Someone is always looking.

3. Privacy Settings: Yes, it’s a hassle, and yes, it takes time, but a little but of time invested goes a long way. Are there pictures you don’t want strangers looking at? Check your privacy settings!

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The Facebook Giveaway Scam

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You must’ve seen it before: Pages on Facebook claiming to give away FREE iPads, iPhones, and other Apple accessories. That’s right, FREE! Did I mention it was FREE? All you need to do is Like and Share the Page with all your friends and you’ll be automatically entered into this FREE giveaway! Simple, right? So what are you waiting for?

STOP!!!

Before you agree to any terms and conditions set out by this “altruistic” Facebook Page, just note one thing: IT’S ALWAYS A SCAM! Unless you see news from an official Apple source and not just some Page that was created a month ago (that’s right, check the creation date of the Page!), your default reaction should always be “It’s a scam!” Every. Single. Time.

So what do they get out of someone just sharing a Page? Information about you, and everyone you get to share. How? Take a look at this section here:

Share What do you suppose happens when you click on the number of shares so far? It shows you a list of everyone who shared the Page, image, or post, which in turn gives you access to any public information on those people’s accounts, including geographic location, email addresses, websites, and even phone numbers. In the world of scam artists, this type of information is absolutely crucial, especially when the old method of acquiring that sort of information requires the purchase of mailing lists, which can be unreliable and expensive. By participating in these Facebook scams, you’re literally helping the scam artist! So what comes next after your Like and Share? Most likely they will have a link for you to click on that requires you to fill out a simple survey to enter completely. Like so:

Giveaway

Notice that the top three “offers” you have to complete involves installing something on your computer. Any time anyone tells you to install something so that you get something else for free, they’re either scammed or trying to scam you. The rest are surveys you need to fill out, which requires you to enter your email address, name, phone number, physical address, and date of birth. Getting this type of info from you is every scam artist’s wet dream! Not only that, let’s take a look at the privacy policy of these so called “survey” and “contest” sites:

privacy noticeShown above are the last 3 segments of a long privacy policy that basically says that you’re agreeing to let them sell or transfer your personal information to anyone, including third parties, if their company ever gets bought, merges with another company, creates an alliances with another company, etc. Oh, and also they can change their Privacy Policy at anytime without notice to you, because the onus is on YOU to come back and check the page. Any legitimate company or website worth their salt will send you a notice via email.

These types of scams are incredibly effective because they take advantage of the hype built up by official companies like Apple, who spent millions of dollars to generate hype and demand. Scam artists take advantage of this by using powerful and enticing terms like “FREE” (notice the all caps for emphasis), and “Giveaway”. Everyone wants free stuff; it’s a very basic marketing tactic that’s been around as long as commerce. Don’t participate in it. The battle to end the trade and sale of your personal information begins with you! Be mindful of marketing language, and more importantly, always be aware that scams are still a rampant problem. Every new social platform gives these crooks and criminals a new way to implement their old tricks. Remember: in the world of social media, protecting yourself also means protecting your friends and family.

Ello’s Invite-Only Platform, Paid Features

I am currently a member of Ello, the latest social network that is primed to take on Facebook and win the hearts and minds of users with its seemingly altruistic philosophy. No advertising, options to opt out of standard data collection on users, and more importantly, a free-to-use network that will never set a mandatory price. It appears the only way to become a member of Ello is to submit your email and wait for an invite from the Ello admins, or to have a friend who is already a member send you an invite. Every new account can invite up to 5 people. While I get that it could help weed out potential fake accounts, I also see it as a weakness, and a cumulative one at that. One spam account can invite up to 5 spam accounts, each with the ability to invite up to 5 spam accounts. Hopefully Ello will spend a little time explaining how they would combat an exploit like that. Let’s move on to my experience so far!

First Impressions

Ello’s in its beta phase, so I will refrain from being too harsh. My first impression is one of slight confusion. There’s minimal wordage from the moment you log in. There are two main sections: “Friends” and “Noise”. In the friends section you will find your friends listed in nice, cute bubbles with the news feed to the right of them, which only shows posts from people you’re following. Everything else goes into Noise. Nice.

My second impression of Ello is that everything is very simple. A little too simple. The site features a lot of white space and no visible borders, leaving the user in a sort of nebulous floating space. On top of being none too crazy about the font choice, the reply features are faded out until you roll your mouse over them, so text seems to get lost in the vast emptiness of Ello. There is no like system that made Facebook famous, but you do get the number of views and the ability to comment. No longer will people be able to quantify exactly how much people like a post. I actually admire the omission of the “Like” function. It makes Ello a place for people, not businesses, and it’s the presence of businesses that turn social networks into advertising platforms.

Verdict: In its current state, I would describe Ello as a more social version of Tumblr with a sprinkle of Twitter.

Paid Features

The paid features aspect of Ello has given me pause. I’m curious to know exactly what features they plan to include, especially if they’re touting the whole “free-to-use” philosophy. Right off the bat I will guess that for several dollars (perhaps $4.99), you will be allowed to have additional invites so you can migrate more of your friends over from Facebook. I’ll even go as far as guessing that current beta users will be given extra invites as a thank you from the Ello admins. The upcoming features section has “Private Accounts” listed. I hope this will be a free feature and not something you have to pay for. I’m actually quite excited to see where Ello will go and how it will evolve as it gains more users. Make more videos! Keep us in the loop!

Facebook’s Real Name Policy

What name did you choose for your Facebook account? Apparently if it’s not your real name, as it is listed on your credit card, driver’s license, or student ID, you’re at risk of having your account deleted due to Facebook’s Real Name Policy. That’s right, if you have a nickname or any name the admins deem “fake” or “not real”, your account can be deleted without warning! The controversy began several days ago when some self-described drag queens and stage performers had their accounts deleted because they used their stage names and chosen names instead of their legal name. Seems unfair, doesn’t it? Not only does this alienate people who do not wish to be found on this ever-popular social network, it alienates the LGBT community. Furthermore, it seriously affects activists in other countries who go by pseudonyms to protect their livelihood, and even their lives! Your legal name may not be the one to which you identify yourself, and to force users to use their real/given names seems entirely arbitrary as a rule. Facebook has since responded to these complaints, stating that the policy will not be changed because it discourages “bad behavior” from potential troll users.

One possible solution given to stage performers who had their accounts deleted is to create a fan page. However, that completely kills the reach and connections they have with friends and family; if you’ve been reading my blog and following Facebook’s organic reach policy, you will see that a Page’s reach has dwindled to numbers as low as 2%. This “solution” farther alienates the people forced to make a Page because they’re refused a user account, because with the current reach algorithms, they’d be a member of Facebook but almost completely disconnected from their friends. Unless they pay money. That’s how Page reach works nowadays.

I don’t know what Facebook’s thinking, but they seem to be pushing their users to move on to other, newer social networks like Ello (I’m a member now!). What is your take on the Real Name Policy?

An Ad-Free Social Network? What’s Your Deal, Ello?

ello2Have you heard of Ello? I recently found out about this brand new social network that’s currently in a beta phase. If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time, you will know that I am a staunch advocate for online privacy, especially against advertisers and sites that will sell your personal information to the highest bidder for the purpose of flashing banner ads in your face. Some of the largest offenders of this philosophy: social networks. Ello, however, seems to be a proponent of the user’s right to privacy, claiming in their manifesto that they do not and will not ever have advertising on their site. For this reason, they and the people who back this social network have dubbed it the “Anti-Facebook”. At first I was suspicious. If they become as popular as Facebook, how will they pay for all their server costs? Every company needs to generate some sort of revenue in order to keep their operations running, right? Their About page explains it all.

It appears Ello will be running on a Freemium platform, which many people have seen in the gaming industry. For those unfamiliar with the term, freemium platforms offer a base service free of charge, but with special features in the form of microtransactions. In other words, you have the initial account for free, but if you want small special features, you need to pay a small sum of money to have it. I am a gamer myself, so the freemium motto is no news to me, nor is it a practice that I support; most freemium games include tons of advertising to generate their revenue. In Ello’s case, it appears it may be a necessary practice for the purpose of generating revenue, since they won’t include any advertising.

My verdict: I will request an invitation. Hopefully I will be able to join and see what features they offer and compare them to Facebook’s functions. I will also be keeping an eye on what the base service offers and what paid special services will be available in the future. Hopefully they will be very separate functions that don’t look like they should be a part of the base service. You know, stuff like paying $3 to streamline your menus so that anyone who paid for this special service will have a much more convenient time navigating the site, whereas the base service members have a nearly unusable platform. Keep this in mind, Ello: don’t make the paid services a necessary feature for your users to have a satisfactory experience. The network itself should stand on its own!

Social Logins: Who Did You Let In? [Stickied to Top Now]

social-login3Think before you click. If you shop online, you’ve probably seen it before: social login buttons that allow you to create a brand new account with a website without filling out the usual forms. If you thought voluntarily filling in those annoying little boxes with your personal information was getting a little too close for comfort, can you imagine the kind of information you’re giving up by allowing them access to your social media accounts?!

Let’s get one thing straight: unless you outright lied about every bit of information about yourself or fiddled around with the security options onfacebook-personal-profile-marketing-work-education-settings-public the social network account you’ve chosen to use at a social login gateway, you’re handing over all the information you’ve mistakenly (or unwittingly) marked as “Public”. This includes your birthday, Pages you’ve liked, friends you’ve connected to, everything on your wall, your personal websites, other social media account usernames you listed, etc. But you’re not the only victim here. Even your friends who have Public profiles will have their data collected simply because they’re connected to you. And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: the nature of social media marketing as we see it today. Have you even read Facebook’s Data Use Policy?

This type of information collection has its drawbacks. You can’t filter out irrelevant data, and you’ll get tons of it in the dragnet. However, it will help build a scarily accurate portrait of individuals who have already signed up for your services. By logging in with your social media account, you’re doing the equivalence of clicking “Agree” in the Terms and Agreements segment of every piece of software you’ve ever installed without actually reading the Terms and Agreements. Once you put your data out there, it’s no longer yours to keep, alter, or hide. Think before you click.