Today's theme is Internet Safety. What? A tutorial on internet safety? Well, this is a new twist on this tired topic because this is how to keep yourself safe when posting online. Yes, you! There are countless resources for keeping kids safe online but what about us grownups? Believe me, sometimes we need tips as well.
First, a bit of background. I have been chatting online and using the internet on a regular basis since 1996. Back then, I was a new teacher and my job was as computer specialist for a small, private school. The school was venturing into computer education for the first time, purchasing computers and setting up a website and computer network. They could not afford to hire both a computer teacher and a computer administrator so they hired me (new teachers are cheap) and sent me to training in how to care for personal computers and the software they use. I was trained in various software products in order to run their network, keep the computers running well, create and manage the website, and publish the school newsletter. I was also trained in hardware repair network management basics. My job also included teaching the students and staff how to use the computers and the internet. So, of course, internet safety was a prime concern. I took a number of classes and seminars on the topic. The very best one I took, one I still remember vividly, was a seminar taught by the attorney for a local school district. He was not a computer expert but had great experience getting said large, suburban school district out of the hot water students and staff can get themselves into if they are not careful. I took away from that seminar to never let your guard down, never underestimate what people can do online, and never think what you are going online is private. Also, always remember that what you are doing online is probably going to live forever in some database farm.
So, now that I am not a teacher for pay, I still think of myself as an educator and I want to give you all some tips on how to keep YOU safe when you are blogging, chatting, sending email, shopping, and interacting online in other ways.
Here are some tips:
- Everything you put online is stored somewhere. And the intention is that it be stored forever. Your email service, your internet service, the online catalog you use to shop, your credit card company, Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest are saving all the data that goes through their computer servers and backing it up on a regular basis. There are large buildings all over the world called server farms and they are used to store these massive amounts of data. Before you post something, consider how you are going to feel about it if you see it again in 25 years. How are your grandchildren going to feel about it? What if your employer or spouse saw it now? Nothing is 100% private. Servers get hacked into all the time, despite our best intentions otherwise. Always remember that the information you are sharing can possibly be used by others and be very careful with posting your social security number, address, phone number, middle name, mother's maiden name, and anything else that is used for personal and private reasons. Keep your personal information to yourself by not using it to create passwords. Same with your children.
- If you post photographs of yourself, friends, or family, do not name them with names that can be easily identified. When I share my photos online, I use the number that iphoto gave it during upload, such as 1294.jpg. If I named the photo after myself or my children, it might be easy to find those photos online by googling them. Since I only use the number or generic title generated by the photo program, I am making my photos harder to organize in a database. I also periodically check my privacy settings on Facebook, Flickr and other websites I use to make sure they are set to the level of privacy I prefer. There are many options for each website. If you are unsure how to check, google it! Google "how can I make facebook private" and you will find the information you need. Guaranteed. I also google my name and my children's name, periodically, to see if there is anything to be found. If I find something, I can go to the source and have it taken down or delete it myself. Be proactive!
- When you share information online, make sure it is not easy to identify yourself and your location. I am lucky to have a very generic name. If you search for me, you will not find me easily. There are just more important people with my name! Lucky me to be obscure! I also keep myself relatively safe by not using my full name. Instead I use my nickname, Kathy. I also do not use my middle name. The more information you give out about yourself, the more people can steal your identity.
- You should also be cautious when chatting online and assume that everyone you chat with is potentially using a fake identity. I have been part of online groups who have been scammed by people making up identities. Sadly, some women make up fake identities and fake pregnancies and even fake pregnancy losses to participate in online chat forums. And people make up fake names to join Facebook groups to spy on others or they make up fake names to buy and sell online when their real name has been accused of illegal activity. It happens in sewing groups and in science debate groups and in all sorts of groups. I have seen it with males and females. I am fortunate to have never been taken advantage of but I am also very wary. I am continually shocked by the low levels people will stoop to in order to take advantage of others. You can keep yourself safe by being wary and not giving out too much information about yourself. If you buy and sell anything, go through a reputable site like Paypal or Ebay where you have protections from fraud and scams. If you buy through an online chat group or Facebook, try not to do business with total strangers.
- My last piece of advice is to be defensive. Firefox is a great browser and has adblocker service. That will block almost all the ads, including the ones which are phishing for your private information. If you think something looks funny, don't open it. Neither your bank nor Paypal nor Ebay will send you an email asking for personal information. If something looks suspicious, call the company and ask if it is real. Most likely, it is not. Send things to your spam folder if they look suspicious. Don't open them! If you socialize online, don't make friends with everyone. Be discriminating. Keeping yourself safe is more important than making friends. And real friend will understand!
Mozilla Firefox is a great, free browser with my privacy features
Once you download Firefox, you can download some add-ons, such as adblocker. They are also free.
The NYTimes recently ran a great article about Facebook and privacy.
If you don't already run a virus software, Sophos has one for free. It works great on my Imac. It catches malware at least once a week, so I am grateful. And the Sophos Facebook page and website are super sources for information on the latest virus and scam news.
This wasn't really a tutorial, in the sense of teaching you how to sew something, but I hope this post has taught you something valuable about keeping yourself safe online. In this day and age, taking advantage of others is shockingly easy. Don't let it be you!!