Recently a controversy erupted over Facebook Phonebook, an app that shares users’ phone numbers without permission. Generally, Facebook can only share your number if you posted it and made it public via your privacy settings. However, by synching with your smartphone’s contacts, this app can share a phone number that has not been published. (This link will show you exactly how to hide your number on Facebook, though it won’t prevent your friends from possibly sharing your number with Phonebook.)
All of this talk has led me to wonder: should I put my phone number online?
I don’t know about you, but I am really paranoid when it comes to putting my details online. I don’t just worry about the ultra-sensitive information, like bank details and card numbers. I worry about my identity, my name, date of birth, my address and my phone number.
I’ve given the issue some thought to try to work out what it is that I am worried about and whether I am being a little too cautious. After all, I have found it useful to look up my friends’ phone numbers on social media sites when my phone has let me down, so why should I withhold the same information from them? I am quite security conscious, so I probably have less to worry about than the average internet user.
But what might the average internet user have to worry about?
By far the most common threat is that which gives a criminal direct access to your finances. Your bank details can be stolen in a number of ways. There is no point in making it even easier by broadcasting your account numbers, card numbers or passwords. Other information, like your address and number, might be useful if it comes paired with your bank details, but they are not usually needed for criminals to make a profit from your account.
By social sabotage I mean anything that could ruin your reputation with your peers. You can socially sabotage yourself by allowing your boss to see a photo of you hosting a late night party in the office. Your (one time) friend can publish the picture without your consent. Both of these problems are common and they are a reason to be careful about who you invite into your social circles and of what you say and do.
A lesser problem is that your account is hacked and your reputation is ruined by an action supposedly performed by you. This is not as common. It is most likely to happen if you have immature friends, rebellious children or a jilted ex-partner and can be prevented by having a completely secret and impossible-to-guess password.
This is where you would have to worry about putting your address and phone number online. It is not very likely to happen though. It is most likely to happen as part of a banking scam and for that, as already mentioned, your phone number and address tend to be of secondary importance compared to your card numbers and account details.
The other thing you should know is that if anyone wants to find your address and phone number online, the chances are that they already can. It doesn’t matter if you did not publish them anywhere yourself. Phone directories are online and have been for some time. I found three services in Finland alone that claimed to be able to give me the personal details of people I know if I logged in to their services. For the USA, there are sites like Spokeo.
These sites do not only give out your phone number and address, regardless of whether you know their existence, but they often collate other data. They will tell other people what you have posted in Yahoo! Groups (the titles of these posts are visible even if the group is private). They will gather your date of birth, gender, relationship status. Some may even gather photos of you. Your house. Your children. Whatever seems to be related to you online.
All this information is out there already. These sites just make it easier to find. Most of the time no-one is going to use those sites and there is no need to worry. If you are paranoid then you can search for yourself and hunt down all the places your information is being leaked from. Usually the only reason to be this paranoid about your data is if you know that someone is out to get you! By this I mean that you are involved in a legal matter or that your livelihood relies on your reputation.
There’s a very small chance that this problem will occur to you as an act of sabotage. You’ll suffer the loss of information from your online accounts, finding it deleted one day. This is most likely to happen because someone who is very close to you is angry with you. If this is happened to you, though, it is the second thing you should consider.
Before you rush to accuse someone of tampering with your accounts be aware that it is far more likely that an error with the software or website you use has caused your data to vanish. Always check with customer services first or search the internet to see if anyone else has the same problem at the same time.
Do you hold a crucial place in a business? Are you a government official? Are you a rebel to a strict governmental regime? Perhaps you’re a celebrity? Have a stalker? Messy divorce? No? Then you probably won’t ever have to worry about this.
If you ever intend to answer ‘yes’ to the above questions then it is a good idea to become more security savvy. Reading this blog is a good start, well done.
If you can answer ‘yes’ already, then you might be one of the few who are justified in being really paranoid and withholding most or all personal details from the online world. At the very least, seek advice relative to your position.
If you’ve skipped to the end looking for a summary, then the answer to whether you should put your phone number (or address) online is:
It is probably online already, but that does not mean that many people will know where to look for it.
Finally, if you want to respond to this article, please don’t call me! Leaving a comment on the blog will do nicely.
CC image by nathanmac87.
When George Lucas' Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope hit theaters in May 25, 1977 the vision of a world that existed a "long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" was startlingly new. The film opens with a massive Imperial Star Destroyer chasing a rebel ship and features routine space travel and battles suggestive of both of the age of King Arthur and a high-tech future, as depicted by visual effects pioneers Industrial Light & Magic. It also features a wire-frame animation (replicated below) of the Death Star, one of the first uses of computer animation ever to make it into a motion picture. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVMnwd4mZlA] Less than a month later, history was made in the personal computer industry when Apple released the Apple II on June 10, 1977. At $1,298 -- which is just over $5,000 in today's U.S. dollars -- the machine that operated using Applesoft BASIC would become one of the first microcomputers to win widespread adoption, eventually expanding personal computing beyond hobbyists by offering business applications like VisiCalc, the first computer spreadsheet program for PCs. By the time Apple phased out the II series in 1993 between 5 and 6 million units had been sold. During 1999, the year when Lucas launched his first of the prequels Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, more than 114 million PCs were sold and the explosion of the World Wide Web had sped up widespread adoption of internet-connected computers. EverQuest -- the second massively multi-player online game after Ultima Online and the first with a 3-D engine -- was released on March 16, 1999 and within months more than two-hundred thousand players had subscribed. On May 19th, Phantom Menace hit theaters with only one scene that wasn't altered by visual effects. It was the first Star Wars film to feature fully computer generated characters including Jar Jar Binks, so maybe that wasn't a great idea. That year Apple released its its iMac computers in a variety of colors, Intel released its Pentium III and the computer virus Melissa -- the first able to spread itself through email -- became the fastest spreading malware ever and hit 250,000 PCs worldwide. The Mobile Web also debuted in Japan via the i-mode networking standard. According to the Computer History Museum Timeline of Computer History, it offered "web access, e-mail, mobile payments, streaming video, and many other features that the rest of the world won't see for nearly another decade." Free PC gave away 10,000 Compaq computers, one of many companies that offered hardware or Internet access in exchange for viewing ads. Many of these companies were bankrupt by December of that year. This is what a 1999-era Compaq running Windows 98 looks like: [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ii51iSCnE0Q] The full trailer of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens debuted in October of 2015. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGbxmsDFVnE] This follows only six months after Apple introduced its Apple Watch wearable device. The number of computers sold each year -- when you combine personal computers with smartphones and tablets -- now numbers in the billions with more than a billion devices powered by Google's Android operating system alone being sold each year. The largest PC maker in the world Lenovo sold 58 million units in 2014. The director of The Force Awakens J.J. Abrams had no input whatsoever from its creator George Lucas who sold to the franchise to Disney. But Abrams studiously sought to connect the new film to the original trilogy. He did this both by working with the writer of Episode IV: The Empire Strikes Back Lawrence Kasdan and through effects that focused on continuity with the movie's predecessors, with only a judicious use of computer generated images. [Apple II image by Narnars0]
I have become pretty immune to advertising on the net. The brain develops an algorithm to locate the relevant content and filter out the junk around it. Frankly speaking, ask me about what ads there were on the page I just visited, and I have no clue. And I believe that’s true for many of us. Except that our internal ad-blockers aren’t perfect. The advertising may still affect us unconsciously. This issue has been in the headlines a lot since Apple introduced a simple way to implement ad-blocking on iPhones and iPads. Many took advantage of the opportunity and released new tools, among them the excellent F-Secure ADBLOCKER. And many media providers got upset as this development will no doubt increase the usage of ad blocking, and thus reduce advertising revenues. Some newspapers are already attempting to prevent users with ad-blockers from using their site at all. And some publishers admit that advertising has gone too far and they had it coming. So let’s take a look at the pros and cons of advertising. First the pros. Advertisers pay for your “free” stuff. It makes it possible to get a lot of excellent services and content without paying money. Instead you pay by exposing yourself to ads and letting companies profile you for targeted advertising. Some may actually find ads, especially well targeted ads, useful. They may contain special offers and campaign codes that are of true value to you. Advertising can be entertaining. And then the longer list, the cons. Advertising often disturbs your user experience. You have to locate the beef among glossy blinking ads. And you may even have to dodge pop-ups to actually see your content. Advertising may lure you to make more, often unnecessary, purchases. That’s basically the objective of advertising. Advertising often tries to trick you into opening the advertiser’s site. For example by mimicking a Next- or Download- button in the ad. Advertising may show content that is unsuitable for the viewer. Advertising can be a way to deliver malware. Ads are delivered from separate servers. A compromised ad server may show infected ads on sites with a good reputation. I.e. in places where you don’t expect to run into malware. Advertising will consume bandwidth and make pages load more slowly. This can cost you real money depending on your data plan. Advertising is the main reason to track you. Many companies attempt to profile you as accurately as possible to make targeted advertising more effective. Good targeted advertising may not be evil in itself, but misuse of the collected data is a real threat. It seems likes the cons win hands-down. But there is one argument in favor of advertisement that deserves some more attention. The publishers who take an aggressive approach against ad-blocking typically say that blocking ads is like taking a free ride. You try to benefit from free content without paying the price. And this is an argument that can’t be dismissed just like that. Remember that advertising is the engine for a significant part of the net. Imagine that 100% of the users would use 100% effective ad-blockers. What would our virtual world look like in that case? I don’t know, but it would definitively be a different world. But on the other hand, it’s easy to find sites where advertising definitively has gone overboard. So it is understandable if the advertisers receive little sympathy for their fight against ad-blocking. This is yet another question without any clear and simple answers. So let’s pass it to you, dear readers. What do you think about advertising on the web? [polldaddy poll=9139628] [caption id="attachment_8591" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Article trying to defend advertising. The beef is there under the ad. ;)[/caption] Safe surfing, Micke Image: iPhone and www.streamingmedia.com screenshots