Creepy Connections

web1By talking to friends … and friends of friends …. I’ve learned that many people my age avoid social media like the plague and look at texting as some sort of affliction that strikes adolescents and turns them into smartphone-toting zombies.  They worry about how much of their lives will be revealed when they go online and won’t order anything over the internet for fear of identity theft.   I, on the other hand, am very connected for an old goat.    I travel with a large backpack filled with electronic miscellanea … a laptop, a  8 inch tablet, and a bluetooth keyboard that allows me to connect to either my tablet or phone and blog anywhere.  I carry a wi-fi dongle that gives me internet access wherever I am.   I am a regular user of Amazon Prime … for shopping … music … books … and cloud storage.   I’m active on Facebook, posting comments and photographs, as well as publicizing Older Eyes Bud’s blog and keeping touch with friends and relatives around the country.  I have a Twitter account but find it pretty much useless.

But I’m also a scientist and computer geek, so I try to be reasonably careful.  I use strong, random passwords for my important (read financial) accounts and change the passwords frequently.  I am careful not to post information that is too personal or embarrassing (even though at 70, I’m not easily embarrassed), particularly on Facebook.   I try to stay out of controversies on my blog, in the comment sections of websites and, particularly on Facebook.   When I buy something or read something and the page invites me Post on Facebook, I politely decline.  I suppose on occasion I say a bit too much about where we are but that’s not an enormous issue because my son is usually at home.  I designate my Facebook posts for Friends, not Friends of Friends and certainly not everyone, but I know that Facebook rules are loose at best.  Somehow, people tagging, liking, or commenting on posts sends them off to unexpected places.

Still, occasionally something happens online that makes me remember I’m being watched … or at least tracked.   Yesterday, while I was checking outshelf3 my page on Facebook, a computer keyboard shelf I’d been looking at an hour earlier Amazon showed up in Facebook’s advertising sidebar.   That seems like a Creepy Connection.  OK, I get it.  Facebook knows who I am and so does Amazon, so it’s not a big leap to connect the two.  But how about when I Google something and along with the About 13,400,000 results that I get in (0.23 seconds), I get the same ad? Creepier Connection.   Yep, I have a Google account for all the connectivity benefits that brings.   Then there are the ads from websites I briefly visited showing up in the sidebars of other websites I’ve never visited before.  Even Creepier.   That would be cookies, those ubiquitous little bits of code websites leave on your computer so they’ll know when you return.  Yes, I can turn them off, but really, isn’t it convenient to have your username autofill when you go to a favorite site?  And don’t you hate having to find the Settings tab when I site tells you This site requires cookies.  Please turn on cookies to proceed?  So, I turn off third-party cookies, which are cookies deposited by certain websites when I visit other websites.  Then there are all those apps on my smartphone and tablet.  Have you ever noticed the list of permissions that appears when you install an app?  Permission to access certain data, to track you using GPS?  Have you glanced at it and just clicked Install?  I have.

I found several interesting websites offering suggestions to keep from being tracked online (here and here, for example).  Some of the suggestions are easy like regularly clearing cookies, using multiple email profiles and using a false name to sign up for newsletters and such.  Others, as Read Each Website’s Terms of Service and Review the Permissions for Each Phone App are not only time consuming, they ask us to sacrifice convenience for security, something we connected types are loath to do.  Marketplace Tech suggests using a browser that doesn’t allow tracking but we do love our favorite browsers, don’t we?  Did you know that many browser privacy settings are not always effective, because they typically leave the decision of whether to track you up to the website you visit because there are no regulations requiring websites honor a “Do Not Track” request.  Freaking wonderful.  The site also recommends some add-ons and services that can encrypt your connection, monitor tracking, and remove your data from data brokers.  So it all comes down to where we want to draw our connectivity line in the sand, how we trade off fun and convenience against security.  I’m thinking it’s time to move my line.  How about you ?

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One Comment on “Creepy Connections”

  1. For all the usual reasons and another of my own (you can guess which one), I try to be careful, as well. Some of it truly is unavoidable, and, though it carries risk, it’s not likely to cause trouble. But it’s a slippery slope, and I think in this age of CIA spying and mystery cell phone towers popping up to monitor calls or read text messages, it’s a constant cognitive dissonance. All of my privacy settings are on the highest possible level, and I don’t let my devices remember passwords or similar codes; this is so that, if my cell phone is lost or stolen, they may see that my bank’s app is on it, but they won’t be able to access anything. Any time that “Do you want this site to remember your password?” prompt pops up, I click “Never remember the password for this site.” I have five different email accounts, only one of which uses any portion of my real name. I love to confuse Google by searching for random things so its algorithms get thrown off and it can’t quite get a read on who I am and what I like. I never click on web ads—ever. And I refuse to calibrate settings on news aggregate search engines to let me see more things from this outlet and fewer from that one. Like you, I never share a link directly to Facebook. And I still mail most of my bill payments in, though one could argue that encrypted websites might actually be less risky than someone opening my mail to find my name, address, signature and checking account number all in their hands. All of this is to say that I think I’m doing just about all I can to stay private in an age when being a total Luddite would only hurt me.

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