The Not-So-Hidden Costs of Free Apps

Facebook is free. You can get a free Starbucks app that gives you savings. You can use any number of free navigation apps, such as Waze or Google Maps. They may be free of fees, but they have costs, but they have costs, and that may be at the practical heart of privacy.

Our purpose here is not to get into the specifics of how you can delete apps like Facebook from your computers and devices. You can find a lot of those steps within the apps themselves. Nor is our purpose here about whether you should delete those apps. Facebook continues to come under fire – and to fire back – as the news changes every day.

In our opinion, the issue of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, which brought a lot of this discussion to a head, happened in 2015. Facebook shared data with Cambridge Analytica under an agreement, but when the agreement was terminated, the data wasn’t deleted. In some ways, we are now looking at several issues, so let’s separate them. I did download all of my personal information that Facebook has about me, and some of it was scary. The scariest part was that they have all of my contact information, and I could see the names of all the people who may have requested to “friend” me but did not accept.

In a way, all of the info didn’t surprise me, and we should all note that Google probably has more information about all of us than Facebook. Like it or not, our likes and dislikes, which are all reflected in what we say on Facebook and in Google product reviews, to name a few, plus all the searches we do and websites we visit all become valuable information for advertisers who want to focus on those who are most likely to buy a product. John Wannamaker, the Philadelphia-based department store owner, said some 150 years ago that he knew only half his advertising dollars were working; he just didn’t know which half. Today’s analytics help businesses and political campaigns make their dollars work more efficiently.

That’s where “free” comes in. We like free apps, free things and being free to express opinions. But it has a cost: whatever level of privacy you are willing to give up. Yes, those “terms and conditions” and “privacy statements” are long and difficult to read, but we all know the drill. In return for being able to use their apps and be eligible for certain perks, we give them the ability to track our locations and share information with their business partners. If anything, the Facebook fiasco has raised our awareness of what goes on behind the scenes, and we may be less willing to give everyone unlimited access to our preferences and whereabouts when given the opportunity.

Another related issue is the Internet of Things, or IoT. All the “smart” home systems, including the smart speakers from Amazon, Google and Apple, collect data based on the info you request, the songs you play and even the merchandise you buy using their systems. Two things we don’t know are: 1.) Do they collect information even when you haven’t activated them? 2.) Who has access to the information they collect?

Moving forward, I am not going to drop out of Facebook. But we can all download the info Facebook has collected on us and look at the apps and advertisers we are tied into through Facebook. We can delete those we don’t want.

Looking at all the data collected about us and figuring out what to delete or hide can be a daunting task, but we can help. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to make an appointment to review whatever information you can collect from the apps you use. We’ll do the best we can to find that happy medium between convenience and security. But even if you decide to drop off the internet and just pay cash for bills and goods and services, your privacy still cannot be ensured.

Don’t Go to the Dark (Web) Side

The story of the hacking frenzy would be incomplete without mentioning the dark web. Some adventurous souls might think they can just drop in for a quick visit to see what’s it like and leave, but two thoughts come to mind: Trying to leave the Hotel California and a lamb sauntering into a lions’ den. Resist the temptation to take a peek.

Trying to poke around the dark web just for grins is the equivalent of going to a bad neighborhood at 2 a.m. just for sake of seeing what it’s like. It’s the place where stolen information, such as driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers, health records and the like are bought and sold. It’s no place for thrill seekers.

Yes, there are websites that will provide you with information on how to get to the dark web, and privacy is critical. Those who trade illicit information guard their privacy very tightly, and they use special VPNs (virtual private networks) to make sure they minimize detection by other criminals or law enforcement officials. And, you also want to minimize your exposure to other criminals who won’t think twice about stealing info and money from you.

Cybercriminals using the dark web never use any common ISPs (internet service providers) or browsers. That’s like walking into the bad neighborhood wearing a bright-colored reflective jacket. Rather, the dark web relies on special browsers designed to be undetectable. Users are advised to disconnect and/or disable recording devices such as microphones and cameras.

Dark web transactions are generally done using Bitcoin or some other form of cryptocurrency that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to trace the hands through which money passes. Users of the dark web generally use multiple aliases and anonymous email addresses to hide their identities and locations.

Criminals on the dark web know that other criminals and law enforcement agencies are marshaling all the tools they can to crack the dark webs, and the sophistication on both sides is constantly evolving. If you suspect some members of your family or employees might be thinking about taking a little peek at the dark web, let them know it can be an extremely dangerous undertaking. Once anyone wanders in, they’re prey for hardened criminals, and it’s unlikely they can wander back out.

If you’re concerned about whether someone in your home or office may have compromised your system’s security in some way, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for a security audit. If there’s something going on, we can take steps to mitigate the effects.

Spoofs and Email Management

Spoofing email addresses is so common that you might as well accept the fact that you have to scrutinize every message you get. With our switch to a new Office 365 management portal, many clients have been getting emails allegedly from Microsoft, and some are more obvious spoofs than others. It might be time to look at your email management processes.

Hackers use spoofing as a way to get into your computer or network. They are relying on your carelessness to click a link that allows them to introduce some sort of malware that will give them access to your critical personal or corporate data and your address book or contact list. Once they get in there, they can replicate the same message that snared you and hope they get lucky with a few more careless people.

To clean out the malware, we need to isolate the message to see what the hacker is spreading through your system. We’ve received a number of calls from clients in the past few weeks about problems with spoofing, and our issue has been the size of clients’ email folders. Simply put, when there are 100,000 messages stored in the inbox, finding the spoofed message that caused the problem can be extremely time-consuming.

In all likelihood, you’ve run into a similar problem when trying to find a specific message. Outlook gives you some search parameters for finding any message you may have saved, but because of the way most people search, you get a lot more possibilities, and that still slows down your search. And, of course, the more messages you have stored in one place, the longer it takes your program and you to find the message you want.

Setting up an email management system can make your searches more efficient, and it can also help you or any IT support team isolate a message that might be causing a problem with your system. Again, Outlook has a few tools, but you might want to start by creating a system of subfolders within your inbox. For example, I file all emails by client, and within each client, I file them by the year. That makes it easy to get to a place to find a message I want to retrieve. It’s similar to the way most of you would set up folders for documents, photos and videos, and business records.

Of course, that system is only as good as the effort you put into moving messages to folders. If you suffer from a severe case of email overload, you may want to consider an archiving program that works on the back end of your email program. It can be especially helpful for a business, particularly where employees deal with multiple people from the same organization. For as little as $3 per month, it can set up and execute a system that even isolates people within a company, making it easier for you or anyone in your organization to get to a specific message to resolve any kind of problem – customer service or malware.

While home users may not be concerned with customer service issues, there are times when you need to find a message to resolve a problem, and good organization can make a busy life a little less hectic. We can help you set up set up Outlook folders or find and set up an archiving system that works best for your needs. Give us a call – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your email management issues and explore the most appropriate solutions.