All Your Social Media Are Belong to US

The Trump administration and the Department of Homeland Security now want visitors to USA to surrender their social media login information before being allowed through security.

“We want to get on their social media, with passwords: What do you do, what do you say?” [Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly] told the House Homeland Security Committee. “If they don’t want to cooperate then you don’t come in.”

Right, so this rotten idea pretty much wipes the United States straight off of my list of places to visit, until the whole thing is declared irreversibly dead and cremated. No, it’s not about whether I have anything to hide, it is about the fact that I have no intention of giving any of the cretins seated in or working for the Trump administration full access to and control over any of my Facebook, Twitter, blog or email1 accounts. I don’t bloody trust them!

1) Email is not quite social media, but with the merging of messaging services and social media, the boundary is becoming more and more blurred. I hardly ever get personal emails anymore; most private messages go through Facebook, and fewer and fewer people can even tell those things apart.

It’s been suggested to me that you could simply wipe the contents of your phone or laptop, and once through security, you can then download everything from an online backup service. Or you could simply leave your devices at home. However, this won’t make any difference.

Because it’s not just about what might be stored on your phone or laptop; they want your Facebook password, Twitter password, Tumblr, Instagram, WordPress blog, Reddit, WhatsApp, Flickr, Snapchat, you name it. And you might as well forget right away the thought of lying and saying that don’t have any. These are the DHS, the NSA, FBI and other American security agencies; you can pretty much count on them knowing if there are social media accounts related to your person. And regardless of whether you have any of your devices physically with you, once you provide them with your login info, they can then log into your accounts on their own computers, with full access to not only see, but also delete, modify, or post content on your behalf, as well as downloading your entire history of posts for later scrutiny, as well as your contact lists.

Moreover, and this is equally or perhaps even more important, they can also view friends-only content on your friends’, family members’ and acquaintances’ profiles, as well as restricted content in closed and/or secret groups and forums, so that it’s not just your own privacy which gets compromised and violated, but also that of anyone you know, on any social network platform that you happen to use.

This, to use a metaphor, quickly escalates from the equivalent of ripples on a pond, to the equivalent of an ocean–wide monster tsunami which kills and injures tens or hundreds of thousands of people almost immediately, and destroys highly polluting industrial installations and nuclear power plants for long term damage.

Although the general rule is that you should never post anything on the Internet, whether public of private, that you don’t want anyone to see, and although you may be careful about what you post, it is highly likely that a good number of, say, your Facebook contacts are posting personal details about their lives, or even about lives of other people they know even if you don’t, that were never intended for the public eye (including but not limited to opinions, feelings, political views, likes and dislikes, loves and hates, references to their own or others’ emotional or mental issues, criminal offences, relationship status and/or history, much of which oneself wouldn’t consider even remotely serious), and which might be used against them by sufficiently skilled and motivated adversaries such as lawyers and security agencies.

Considering the principle of Six Degrees of Separation, it is highly likely that insight into the social network profiles of a small number of people, would reveal “useful” and possibly damaging information about a significant number of other individuals.

To use a slightly different metaphor, the dent in your own personal privacy may be as insignificant as the tiny, round hole left by a hollow point fragmenting bullet on one side of a water melon (or someone’s forehead, if you want the morbid version), but that is practically nothing compared to the explosively splattered mess which is the exit wound on the other side (and a personal word of caution: do not google images of this unless you have a very strong stomach).

Know what other country was formerly at the top of my list of places not to visit? Saudi Arabia. Many reasons, but one being that they’ve declared me to be a terrorist. Why? Simply because I’m an atheist. Mind you, with the religious fanatic leanings of the GOP, the prospect of getting banned from USA for simply being an atheist doesn’t seem all that far fetched anymore.


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Before I Click That ‘Ignore’ Button Again

Occasionally I receive friend requests from people I don’t know, of whom I’ve never heard before, and have no mutual contacts, groups, activities or interests. Those I categorically decline or ignore, on the grounds that they’re likely to be laced with ill intent, either from people looking to drag me into various sorts of scams, or from automated bots trying to get at my private, personal info, which I otherwise share only with the people on my friend list.

Quite often I see that those profiles get deleted from Facebook shortly after, which confirms my suspicion that there was something fishy going on.

But I know of a number of instances where the friend requests came from actual people who, presumably, had legitimate reasons for trying to contact me, and their requests went in the bin because that’s all I got, and nothing more came from it. What did they want? I may never know.

If for any reason you are a real person trying to get in touch with me, for whatever reason, send a message instead. I can’t and won’t personally respond to friend requests from strangers and ask who you are and what you want. That’s your job, to present yourself before you send a friend request. Otherwise it’s just spam, and I’ve no time for that.

IN SUMMARY

  • If you receive a Facebook friend request from a stranger, for no apparent reason, do not accept. They may not be friendly. Simply ignore or delete.
  • If you want to contact someone on Facebook who doesn’t know you, message them first and introduce yourself before sending a friend request. It’s common courtesy.

Cookies Everywhere!

I mean, I walk into a website, and the website says “Hey! You know we use cookies, right? Cookies are good for you, and for us, but we need you to accept them before we can continue. Please click the appropriate whatsit to accept that we use cookies together!”.

And since I’m OK with that, I click the appropriate whatsit. And, what do you know, next time they ask me again. And again. Even if I check back just five minutes later, they ask me again.

You know, there’s one wonderful use for cookies, right? It’s to let the website remember stuff that I did on a previous visit. Like shopping sites remember which items I looked at previously, so it suggests those when I come back, which I think is good.

So why can’t they remember that I already answered YES, dammit! All it takes is a “Don’t ask again” checkmark box. Please. It’s getting tiring.

For the record: I know that not everyone is OK with the use of cookies, and with good reason as there are ways to misuse them that are intrusive and a threat to your privacy. I also don’t suggest you blankly OK cookies on every single site you’re on. That’s what your browser’s Incognito Mode or Private Mode is for, and this is why, on occasion, you may choose to delete browser cookies. Use your own sound judgement to protect your own privacy.

With apologies to Sesame Street.

Keep it Down, Please!

Dear loud woman on the phone on the bus.

(Around 11:15 on Friday, September 12th, in the unlikely event that you should read this)

Thank you so much for letting us all take part in the retelling of your breathtaking adventures of finding out about your thirteen year old son’s appalling porn surfing habits from the browser history on his iPad.

And welcome to the world of modern parenthood. Aside from your adressing the possible moral implications of your son looking at titties, there’s another issue which concerns us all: Privacy. Ours, yours and his.

I am sure he would have loved to know that, thanks to his mother, that being you, we’re now all thoroughly informed, the entire bus load of us, of this aspect of his life in full detail, including (as I could easily gather from various other bits of your call) his full name and birth date, his cellphone number, clues to tour home address, the name of his school, his teacher, several of his friends, as well as the full name and email address of the person with whom you’re speaking on the phone.

I couldn’t have missed it if I tried. Had I been so inclined, and taking notes rather than typing this, I could have caused you and your family no end of trouble and unpleasantness. That said, I know nothing of the intentions or tendencies of any of the other two dozen people on board, all easily within earshot.

The hitherside of your conversation is not private! Please MAKE IT SO!

Best regards,

The guy in the seat behind you.

PS: I noticed that, after your call, you rather fittingly turned your attention to a copy of “50 Shades of Gray”. You may want to keep that one well outside the conversation when again you confront your son about the inappropriateness of pornography.

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