Update May 18, 2012: Facebook went public today and the company has a staggering $100 billion valuation. As I have highlighted in the past, using social networking sites carries significant risks (see original article below) that most folks are unaware of. Now, a consolidation of numerous privacy invasion class action lawsuits against Facebook has been filed.
I've always had some trepidation about social networking
sites. It's not that I'm not a social fellow. It's simply that I've been aware
of enough scams and other problems in the real world that these new mediums seemed
to me to provide an opportunity for user abuse.
I must confess, though, a moment of weakness in recent
years. It was caused I guess in part by guilt and feeling a bit left out. My
email box kept filling up with invitations to connect with friends and work
colleagues from years past. So, I activated a Facebook account as well as other
accounts on several, popular social networking sites.
Some months passed and my "friends" and "connections"
mushroomed. Actually, I should say it was more like weeds sprouting up because
outside of superficial online exchanges, I didn't really converse in any
meaningful way with my connections.
And, then I get infected. More specifically, my computer got
infected. A computer forensics specialist I hired was able to pinpoint that I
got infected via a Facebook link I clicked. The computer virus was a nasty one
which ended up costing me hundreds of dollars out of pocket and down time. (No
customer data was accessed or compromised).
Around this time, I was reading more and more stories about
security breaches and lack of privacy concerns at Facebook and on other social
networking sites so I immersed myself in the topic to learn more. The results
and findings are in this article to warn you of the significant and growing
dangers posed by these sites and your participation on them.
Why You Should Close Your Accounts on Social Networking
Consider this: When you use an investment company web site
to access and conduct business on your accounts, you consider the security of
the site. You wouldn't want someone gaining illegal access to your account and
neither does the investment company which would be held liable in most
instances that were not the fault of the account holder.
But, when visiting a social networking site, most folks let
their guard down and aren't thinking about security issues. And, guess what?
The firm operating the social networking website isn't thinking and spending
anywhere near as much on security as an investment company does. Thus, the
stories about security breaches on social networking sites shouldn't come as a
surprise (nor should my computer's infection with a virus via Facebook).
Here then are the primary reasons why you should shun social
500 Million Users. That's how many registered users
Facebook claims to have worldwide. Studies have shown, however, that a large
portion (40 percent or more) of these profiles are fake. Now, consider this
question: How many millions of people - e.g. criminals, sexual predators,
people and companies trying to sell you something - would you choose to avoid
in real life? They are all over social networking sites trolling for "prospects"
Poor security track record. There have been scores of news
reports about security lapses and breaches on Facebook and other prominent
social networking sites. As I mentioned earlier, this stems in large part due
to an underinvestment and lack of commitment and concern about user's security
Internet based crime including identity theft is rising
sharply especially via Facebook according to network security experts I spoke
with. On an annual basis, such crime is now estimated to cost users about $1
Exposure to costly viruses. As I explained earlier in this
article, this is what happened to one of my computers. Viruses and other links
that expose your personal passwords are especially dangerous given many people's
tendency to use the same password on other sites, including banking and
investing sites, they use.
Sharing of personal information with others for marketing
and solicitation purposes. This problem should also not be a surprise given
that the social networking sites are "free" and they need to find a way to make
Closing Your Social Networking Accounts
I guess I should have expected that when I went to close my
social networking accounts, doing so wouldn't be nearly as easy and quick as it
was to open them. After hunting around a bit and doing some searches, I
succeeded in closing my accounts.
On Facebook, for example (see below), you click on the "Account" tab in
the upper right hand corner and then the "Settings" tab and then select the "Deactivate
Account" option near the bottom of the screen. You will then see pictures of
several of your friends with warnings of how much they will miss you. Then
Facebook wants you to tell them why you wish to deactivate your account by
clicking on one of the reasons (see list below) after which they'll try to talk
you into staying (see the response that appeared after I clicked the first reason).
Reason for leaving (Required):
I get too many emails, invitations, and requests from Facebook.
You can control what email you receive from us here.
You may find Facebook more useful by connecting with more of your friends. Check out our Friend Finder to see who you know on the site. Also, check out the Getting Started Guide
to get an overview and tips on using Facebook. Don't find the Wall or
Groups particularly useful? Besides our core features, you can also find
additional functionality built by outside developers. Check out our App Directory to find what else we have to offer.
I spend too much time using Facebook.
way to control your interaction with Facebook is to limit the number of
emails you receive from us. You can control what emails you receive here.
I have a privacy concern.
remember that you can always control the information that you share and
who can see it. Before you deactivate, please take a moment to learn more about how privacy works on Facebook. If there is a specific question or concern you have, we hope you'll let us know so we can address it in the future.
I have another Facebook account.
This is temporary. I'll be back.
you can reactivate at any time by logging in with your email and
password, although you must have access to your current login email
address. Also note that your admin status in any groups or events will
not be automatically restored after activation.
I don't feel safe on Facebook.
You can alter your privacy settings to make sure you are more protected. We also allow you to organize your friends in different Friend Lists
in order to share certain information with select people. Additionally,
you can block certain people from seeing your profile and contacting
Please explain further:
Email opt out:
Opt out of receiving future emails from Facebook
Even after you deactivate, your friends can still invite you to events,
tag you in photos, or ask you to join groups. If you opt out, you will
NOT receive these email invitations and notifications from your friends.
Consider for a moment what the world was like before the
Internet took hold. When I wished to connect with "someone," I would pick up
the phone and call that person and have an interactive conversation with them.
Voicemail began to change communication and then e-mail really began to change
things. Now, texting and other methods have taken us even further from personal
These newer communication methods certainly are worth using
but let's not forget the good, old fashioned one-on-one interactive
communication possible only with a phone call or an in person get together.
More Security Mistakes to Guard Against
If you're going to use any type of networking site online, tread carefully. CSO checked in with dozens of IT security professionals to
identify common mistakes people make when using networking sites, and
how to avoid them. (CSO provides news, analysis and research on a broad range
of security and risk management topics.)
Over-sharing company activities. This is a sin of pride,
when someone gets excited about something their company is working on and
simply must tell everyone about it...By sharing too much about your employer's
intellectual property on social networks, you threaten to put it out of
business by tipping off a competitor who could then find a way to duplicate the
effort or find a way to spoil what they can't have by hiring a hacker to
penetrate the network or by sneaking a spy into the building.
Mixing personal with professional. This is the case where
someone uses a social network for both business and pleasure, most commonly on
Facebook, where one's friends include business associates, family members and
friends. The problem is that the language and images one shares with friends
and family may be entirely inappropriate on the professional side.
Engaging in Tweet (or Facebook/LinkedIn/Myspace) rage. For
the person who has just been laid off or had their professional integrity
called into question online, the urge to fire back with a stream of vitriol can
Believing he/she who dies with the most connections wins. For
some social networkers, it's all about accumulating as many connections as
possible. Folks on LinkedIn are notorious for doing this, especially those in
such LinkedIn groups as TopLinked and LION. This may seem harmless enough or,
at the worst, just annoying. But when the name of the game is quantity over
quality, it's easy to link or ‘friend' a scam artist, terrorist or identity
Password sloth. Another common sin is one of laziness, in
this case picking passwords for your social networks that you're least likely
to forget. In many cases, that means using the same password for LinkedIn and
Facebook that you're using for your online bank account or work machine. If
someone with malicious intent figures out the password for one social network,
that person can now go and access everything else. Using the same password on
several sites is like trusting the weakest link in a chain to carry the same
Trigger finger (clicking everything, especially on Facebook).
Facebook in particular is notorious as a place where inboxes are stuffed with
everything from drink requests to cause requests. For some social networkers,
clicking on such requests is as natural as breathing. Unfortunately, the bad
guys know this and will send you links that appear to be from legitimate
friends. Open the link and you're inviting a piece of malware to infect your
Endangering yourself and others. All of the above tie into
the seventh and perhaps most serious sin, which is that reckless social
networking can literally put someone's life in danger. It could be a relative
or co-worker. Or it could be yourself. Security experts advise extreme caution
when posting birthday information, too much detail on your spouse and children,
etc. Otherwise, they could become the target of an identity thief or others
with criminal intent.
Copyright Eric Tyson, 2008 - 2013 all rights reserved.
Eric Tyson is the only best-selling personal finance author who has an extensive background as an hourly-based financial advisor and who does not accept speaking fees, endorsement deals or fees of any type from companies in the financial services industry or product or service providers recommended in his articles, books and his publications.