Sara's Column: Internet, technology not without risks

It’s no secret that I’m a geek. I love my gadgets, and I love finding new and streamlined functions of those gadgets. But I have to add a caveat to all that adoration: I’m not a fan of all the risks associated with much of the technology available today. As ...
May 23, 2013

It’s no secret that I’m a geek.

I love my gadgets, and I love finding new and streamlined functions of those gadgets.

But I have to add a caveat to all that adoration: I’m not a fan of all the risks associated with much of the technology available today.

As technology consumers, we’re trading in much of our privacy for the sake of convenience.

Facebook takes a lot of heat over privacy issues – the site’s security settings are so convoluted and are changing so frequently, you’re probably not being paranoid if you think they’re doing it deliberately. They want your private information; it represents a goldmine to marketers, and by extension, Facebook.

But the more private information of yours that is floating around in cyberspace, the higher the risk that criminals will target you.

Identity theft is a very real risk today.

And this doesn’t even begin to address the general creepy-stalkerish factor.

In 2010, a Pennsylvania family sued their son’s school district after the high school principal accused the teen of “inappropriate behavior in his home” and showed him a photo of the behavior.

The school had remotely activated the webcam in the school-issued laptop.

On the Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect device, which includes a camera and microphone, the users’ privacy is similarly fragile. In fact, the fine print basically says there is none.

“You should not expect any level of privacy concerning your use of the live communication features (for example, voice chat, video and communications in live-hosted gameplay sessions) offered through the Service,” according to the device’s end-user license agreement.

And as long as your device is connected to the internet, there is a chance – slight as it may be – that someone could hack into it to control it remotely.

Am I saying you should cut off your internet and start using carrier pigeons?

Not at all.

There are definitely risks associated with internet-based technology, but if you’re aware of those risks you can minimize them.

First of all, make sure you’ve secured your Wi-Fi connection if you use one in your home. Most routers today make the setup process pretty intuitive, so it shouldn’t take long to do. And it’s well worth what time it does take. Using an unsecured wireless network leaves your computer vulnerable to intrusion, and many people have key personal information, such as social security numbers, birth dates and more, on their computers.

And speaking of that information, for added safety, secure any files containing sensitive data with passwords.

And please, please, please always use an active and up-to-date anti-malware program.

While securing your network and computer are big parts of minimizing risk, a different but almost as big part is what you do when you are online.

Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare and all the other social media sites are fun, and after all, you already know most of the people you’re interacting with on there -- you can trust them.

It’s easy to forget that when you’re posting to Aunt Sue’s Facebook wall, that post is also visible to hundreds, if not thousands, of other people you don’t know.

And things on the internet tend to never go away – even if you want them to and even if they appear to.

Be careful what you broadcast to the world.

And lastly, pay attention to all the fine print. When that app asks your permission to take over control of your GPS services or to post to other people using your name, ask yourself if you really are OK with that before you continue.

Just be aware.

There are many, many ways you can minimize the risks involved with new technologies – way too many for me to even begin to touch on them here.

But even just being aware of the risks and taking a few simple precautions will go a long way toward keeping you safe as you surf.

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