NORMAN — I am often asked, “Is Facebook safe?” Facebook, the most popular social networking website in the world, long ago knocked rival MySpace off the No. 1 perch and now boasts more members than the entire population of the United States. Just like the U.S. population, it can be both safe and dangerous at the same time.
Asking if Facebook is safe is a bit like asking if your car is safe; well, yes and no. While it’s resting in your driveway, your car is probably safe, although cars have been known to spontaneously combust. Even so, it is when you start driving your car that safety usually becomes an issue. How well can you drive Facebook? Do you know where the brakes are? If there’s a storm, do you know how to turn on the wipers? If parking in an unsafe area, do you know how to turn on the car alarm?
In its simplest form, Facebook is pretty safe. You put up your Facebook page, decorate it with some photographs, post a few things about yourself and start “networking” with your friends. You get to chat, send email back and forth and do other interesting things. It’s good, harmless, wholesome fun.
Things get a little dicey, though, when you start using Facebook “apps.” Apps (short for applications), are little programs that you can install to work with Facebook to do cute things like send virtual (imaginary) gifts to your friends, like flowers, hearts or even mixed drinks. Some apps allow you to play games while others let you search for news stories or videos. There are thousands of different apps written by thousands of different programmers.
Sadly, not all apps or apps programmers are nice. Anyone can write a Facebook app and Facebook administrators are hard-pressed to test them all for safety. Some apps are merely computer viruses in disguise, waiting to wreck your computer. Other apps contain nasty spyware designed to commit identity theft. There is lots of spam email on Facebook, too, directing readers to porn sites or infecting them with viruses, as well. Use a simple Google search to research apps before installing them and you’ll probably be OK; that’s what I do.
The biggest safety concern most folks have with Facebook is that of privacy and confidentiality. Way too many people put way too much personal information on their Facebook pages and then let anyone in the world have a look. Failure to protect personal information has caused many people a lot of grief and heartache.
Police have been known to use information found on unsecured Facebook pages to bust people for all sorts of crimes. Employers regularly surf Facebook pages, looking for previously unknown information about their employees. Employees have been fired and students kicked out of school for posting malicious comments on Facebook. Facebook harassment and “cyber-bullying” can be a real problem. Just like online dating websites, people have gotten into deep trouble believing someone masquerading as someone they are not on Facebook.
The moral of this story is that, if you are going to be on Facebook, learn how to protect your personal information. Don’t believe everything you read. Research apps before installing them and simply use some common sense. Just like you do when driving your car down the highway, practice some Facebook safety and you’ll be fine.
Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or www.davemoorecomputers.com