NORMAN — A recent discussion on Facebook reminded me of two words: caveat emptor, a Latin phrase often translated as, “Let the buyer beware.” In this case, I would have changed the phrase to “Let the downloader beware.”
The discussion centered on a notice that is popping up on many Facebook users’ pages that says “I want to add your birthday.” The notice masquerades as a request from a Facebook friend to click a link and install an “app” that would add your birthday to their calendar, and vice versa.
However, this seemingly-innocent app does a lot more than remind you of birthdays; it also harvests “virtually all of your personal information, plus a list of all your friends, plus your chats and posts on any of its related pages and use(s) that information or sell(s) that information to a company or companies that may not have your best interests at heart,” (quote from waynewarrington.com).
There lies the problem with a great many apps for Facebook, as well as desktop, laptop, smartphone and tablet computers, especially those that are allegedly “free.” Not only do they provide you with a cute game or handy doodad, they spy on you and everyone else they touch, gathering as much information as possible, to be sold, re-sold and then sold again by the millions to Internet-based marketing firms. That “free” app is making money for somebody and you are paying the price.
Have you ever wondered why you get so much spam email? It all depends on who you give your email address to, and how it is circulated around the Internet. There’s money to be made in acquiring and selling personal information, such as email addresses. Mindlessly downloading and installing every free app that comes along is a sure-fire way to get on every marketer’s list.
Learning which apps are safe and which aren’t is easily done by turning to the world’s largest encyclopedia: Google. For example, to learn about the “I want to add your birthday” notice that was popping up on Facebook, I went to google.com and searched for “Facebook I want to add your birthday.” Thousands of search results were available, and that’s how I learned of the downside to this particular app.
I do this with virtually every program suggestion or story that people send me. Want to know if a certain website is safe, or if a company is legitimate? Google search the issue and see what turns up. Curious about if Bill Gates wants to give you money, or if Warren Buffet really wants you to forward an email about the Congressional Reform Act to 20 of your friends? Do a Google search and find out.
How about this: want to know what an “app” is? Ask someone you know (especially kids or “younger” people), “What is an ‘app?’ What does ‘app’ stand for?” Then, help them go to Google and look it up. Hint: type in “define app.”
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.