Just how safe am I online?
It’s a question that unfortunately doesn’t enter our minds nearly as much as it should. Today, safety online is multi-faceted. You could talk about your data, cyberbullying or misinformation.
I’d like to talk about the data that we’re putting online, and it’s consequences.
To begin with, let me tell you a story. AOL was one of the biggest search engines initially and, at one point in time, they did what is called a data dump. Essentially they released anonymised browsing data of its users, that is, data with no tags or identifying features of the person, apart from the region where they lived. But, using reverse engineering, people were able to trace individuals based on absolutely anonymised browsing history. Imagine for a second, your browsing history displayed to the entire world. All those secret Google searches that you wouldn’t even tell your family, known to some stranger.
We call Google and Facebook free, but they’re not. The cost of using Google or Facebook is you, your life history, your thoughts and dreams.
Why do I call this unsafe though? Afterall, a search engine never hurt anybody.
Have you ever noticed how once you search for shoes on Google, you start getting ads for lots of shoes everywhere? This sort of targeting seems innocuous at first sight. You see an ad for a shoe you like, and you buy it, it never occurs to you that you’ve been influenced into this decision. And if they can influence us into this decision what else could they do?
Facebook and Google have been proven to be able to influence 25% of the world’s elections through the use of targeted ads and news. The medium is infamous for its use in spreading online hate and rumours, that could not only destroy your life but cost you the elections.
The messages they show us affect the way we vote. This would be scary enough as is, but the bigger problem comes that these ads are driven either by their whims, basically meaning Facebook could influence us into making decisions that suit them, or services that are sold to the highest bidder.
The biggest danger in all this though comes from the fact that all this is very well hidden and subliminal. It becomes so hard to recognise that you’re being influenced when you don’t have an idea about what the other person is actually doing.
So how do we protect ourselves from all of this? If the internet is a medium through which activities such as cyber-bullying, stalking, harassment and propaganda occur – can it ever be a safe space to take the news, ideas or even to interact with your friends?
If you, like around half of the world, get your news from Facebook, please take out the time to actually follow up on it from a different source, preferably giving an opposite point of view. The diverse opinion will give you a greater understanding of the problem. Don’t let mass opinion and the tendency of human beings to conform, bully you into making bad decisions.
While browsing on Google try to log out of your Gmail account and periodically clean out the cookies your browser has stored.
Before you hit the share or like button, please do verify the authenticity of what you’re looking at. For one, sharing videos that aren’t true will make you the butt of a bunch of jokes. Moreover, it’s also the primary means of “fake news” spreading. You never know, what you’re sharing might be a case of cyberbullying or revenge porn, and sharing it means you’re complicit in all the pain they’re causing.
I don’t know about you, but I always feel incredibly dumb when I share something with a friend, and he goes ahead and shows me just how wrong I am.
A little bit of care when you’re online, can actually go a long way in helping you make better decisions and avoiding some very embarrassing moments.