Privacy tips for the most vulnerable: Children and seniors
It's a thin line between "trusting" and "gullible." The internet and social media have stretched that line past the breaking point. These days, there's no such thing as being too cynical.
Even a grizzled, suspicious tech veteran such as myself gets confused about what to believe and who to trust in this digital world of ours. Imagine how bewildering the onslaught of information can be for the uninitiated. It's time to turn to the experts for help. That's precisely what Ashley Rodriguez of Quartz did in a May 16, 2017, post.
Rodriguez sought tips for spotting fake news from experts at the fact-checking site Snopes and the Storyful service that verifies social media posts for news outlets and other companies. Also offering advice on fake news for the Quartz story is Daniel Levitin, author of the book, "Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era."
1. Use fact checkers, such as Snopes or one (or more) of the other 114 dedicated fact-checking services operating around the world identified by the Reporters Lab.
2. Look closely at the URL, particularly if there is anything in the name after ".com", such as "NBC.com.co", which probably is not be affiliated with NBC.
3. Find the original source of the article, which may not be easy to do when you're visiting a "news aggregator" site. It isn't uncommon for an aggregator to report an article from a satire site such as The Onion as a straight news story.
4. Corroborate wild, outrageous claims made in stories by searching for key phrases that may appear verbatim on other unrelated sites. This helps you identify "stories" that simply copy and paste unsubstantiated material from other sites.
5. Determine the location of the source by looking for geographic references, particularly the geo tags that accompany most social media posts. However, keep in mind that these locations can be spoofed by using a VPN service, or via other methods.
6. Pay close attention to datelines and timestamps, which can indicate a years-old story is being recycled in a new -- and perhaps unintended -- context.
7. Take the information presented in charts and graphs with a grain of salt because such data often lacks the appropriate background. An example is a chart showing the increase in commercial aviation deaths since the 1950s, without considering the increase in the overall number of passengers and in total miles traveled by air.
8. Share sparingly, and only after thinking long and hard about the impact of the story you're sharing should it turn out to be bogus.
Keep seniors safe by monitoring their online activities and spending
Which age group is most likely to fall for online scams? If you answered "old folks," you would be wrong. According to a survey by the Better Business Bureau, 36 percent of the victims of scams in 2016 were between the ages of 18 and 24, while only 12 percent were over the age of 65. Randy Mac of NBC Los Angeles reports on the survey in a May 16, 2017, post.
That's not much consolation for the seniors who were taken by computer criminals. In a May 25, 2017, article on JD Supra, Linn Freedman of Robinson+Cole offers 10 tips for keeping computer-using seniors safe.
Among the tips are to ensure their home and mobile phone numbers are registered on do-not-call lists, review their bank statements to spot suspicious payments and withdrawals, educate them about not sharing personal information with anyone who calls or contacts them (particularly the IRS, which almost never calls taxpayers), and "vet and monitor care givers carefully."
Sources for information on protecting children's privacy
The milestones of my youth predate the digital age, which means my permanent online record commences at middle age. It's difficult to imagine the depth and breadth of information being collected, stored, and shared that relates to anyone born in the 21st century.
The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires that sites, online services, and applications targeting children under the age of 13 receive the explicit approval of their parents before the services collect, use, or share private information about the children. COPPA covers any information "that can be used to track a child’s activities over time and across different websites and online services," according to the Federal Trade Commission site.
What the FTC fails to do is to provide parents with advice on how to protect their children's privacy themselves. Common Sense Media offers age-specific tips that cover how to use the privacy settings in browsers and applications, how to select user names and passwords, and how to know what's safe to share and what should never be shared online.
Here are three other resources for online safety tips that apply to students and everybody else:
Dancing to the Beatles: It has nothing to do with anything, but this video of a group of tap dancers' take on Come Together is too cool not to share.
Pro se guides for asylum seekers: Students at the Standard Law School Immigrants' Rights Clinic have compiled a guide for immigrants who want to apply for asylum without the assistance of a lawyer; the guide is available in Spanish and in English (both are PDFs). The guides are "tailored to the specific needs of individuals with asylum cases in San Francisco Immigration Court," but their sample forms and many document examples will serve people in other jurisdictions as well.
How exposed are you? The Wall Street Journal's Geoffrey A. Fowler shocked a bunch of strangers when he showed them how much personal information about them was available for anyone on the internet to find (video). The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Panopticlick tool tests your browser to determine how much private data it's leaking to the sites you visit and the services you use. Just so you know, I thought my browsers were pretty much locked down. I was wrong.
When did everybody get so mean? This is a subject I'll be returning to in a future Weekly, but I didn't want to wait before sharing this May 30, 2017, article on Common Dreams written by Robert Reich that uses newly elected Representative Greg Gianforte's attack on a reporter for the Guardian as a jumping-off point. The upshot: The person in the White House sets the tone.