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Cyber self-defense skills

Central 1 Credit Union website
Shannon Rupp

Surfing such popular social networking sites Facebook and MySpace requires using a few cyber self-defense skills.

Most adults are aware that they’re opening themselves to marketers looking to mine data, and viruses that are spread via site notifications. The sites also post warnings about new threats. What they rarely mention is that con artists and identity thieves can find a wealth of information in the average personal page.  For example, what better way to find the most common security password on a bank account -- the mother’s maiden name -- than by visiting someone’s Facebook page and finding all those cousins on the friends list?

But for parents an even greater fear is cyber-bullies or worse. Predators looking to meet children have only to find a group organized around a current band or a toy collecting fad to gain access to thousands of children and their friends via their friends list. 

MySpace, which launched in 2002, is the most popular social networking site in the U.S. where it draws about 73 million users, making it roughly twice the size of Facebook.  The latter launched in 2004 and was founded by a Harvard student looking to connect with his 19,000 campus-mates. But by 2006, Facebook was open to everyone and today it’s the international leader in the English-speaking world, with about 70 million users. It’s the site Canadian teens prefer.

Parents can limit online danger for younger children by adjusting Facebook’s privacy settings themselves. (They’re found in a drop-down menu in the header line of the personal page). Allow children to use the site to connect with people they already know, but remove any features that allow them to meet strangers online. Don’t allow outsiders to see your child’s photo or the  friends list  – and request that your children’s friends do the same.  Disable the features that allow strangers to “poke” your children, or send messages.

But it’s also important to teach children that nothing on the web is private. It’s just as public as the busiest street corner, and they shouldn’t do or say anything online that they wouldn’t do in public, or say to a crowd of strangers.

For parents who don’t use social media themselves but want to anticipate the hazards, there are dozens of books teaching marketers how to use using social networking sites to snag customers. Ironically, they also serve to show citizens how to protect themselves from unwanted incursions into their privacy.

This year, U.S. legislators have been working with Facebook and MySpace to make the site owners more vigilant about abuses. In 2008, the sites agreed to remove groups whose comments or images suggest they may prey on children, and to review the profiles of users who try to change their age, to ensure they’re not attempting to masquerade as children.

Facebook, particularly, is evolving into a marketplace, inviting companies to treat its members as a captive audience.  As it encourages more businesses to use the site for marketing and advertising, it has also agreed to keep tobacco and alcohol ads away from children, and ensure that companies advertising on the site comply with safety and privacy guidelines. 

1 Dec 2008