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Issue #681: August 9-15, 2020

Geek Note: I’ve been warning you that my question queue was running on fumes.  All too few of you responded with new column fodder.  So, now you’ve done it – you’ve left it up to me to decide on a topic to fill this week’s issue.  You’re just going to have to live with the results.

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The topic I have chosen for this week is actually one that I’ve discussed before.  In fact, the landmark 500th Issue of It’s Geek to Me (Geek Note: I.G.T.M. #500, Feb 19, 2017) dealt with it.  By contrast, you are reading Issue #682.  Nevertheless, it was an important issue back then, and is even more so now, as the environment on Facebook, and the quantity and types of threats hanging around out there are worse than ever before.

Facebook has become one of those companies and services that nobody seems willing to admit that they like, yet nearly every person and business seems to have a presence there.  Yes, that includes me.  Besides my personal page, I have pages for this column, for The Geek Lights on the Corner, and others.  Unfortunately, Facebook does not seem content to be a neutral third-party offering online space to all of us to express ourselves.  Facebook has an obvious political agenda, and rather than merely being the world’s largest social media platform, CEO Mark Zuckerberg seems determined to make it into a social engineering platform.  So, when you read “Thanks, Mark!” in my column, I hope you’ll remember to whom it refers.

Other than Facebook’s non-neutrality, which takes the form of Facebook manipulating which content you see first, if at all, the company seems content to turn a blind eye to bogus advertisers that use the platform to reach huge numbers of people with phony, and even malware-laden ads.  I have personally seen products advertised that I know with absolute certainty can not be for sale, because they do not exist – at least not yet.  Scammers find a cool gizmo in a Kickstarter campaign, and swipe all its pictures and videos, and re-package them to look like an item being advertised for sale.  They rope-in thousands of people, each of whom pays out money, many of whom provide credit card information.  Then they innocently wait for their order to arrive.  By the time these buyers get frustrated and start to look into where their package is, the scammer has long-since closed up shop and moved on to the next scam.  Reporting it to Facebook does not help.  It’s gotten bad enough, I don’t even bother to open Facebook ads anymore.

There are still plenty of click-bait, and click-farming scams out there as well.  Facebook has done little, if anything to educate their user base to the dangers of these.  If you haven’t already read I.G.T.M. Issue 500, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Just having an account on Facebook puts you and your contacts at some amount of risk.  Chances are that at some point you’ve gotten a friend request from someone you’re already friends with.  When you look at the profile, it’s got all your friend’s pictures and personal information, but the account is freshly created.  If you accept the friend request, the scammer now has the ability to participate in group chats with you and your other contacts, and can create further bogus accounts.  The goal of all this is to steal personal information, spread malware, and harvest Facebook user accounts which actually sell on the dark web for up to $50 each.

I’m not saying you should stop using Facebook.  But if you do use it, or if you allow your kids to use it, you need to educate yourself about the risks.  You should be on constant guard of your privacy, and know what you share, and with whom.  And please, resist the temptation to respond to every post you read that challenges you to identify a song, count a number of triangles, or reply to someone who claims to be giving away a $250,000 recreational vehicle.  Remember TINSTAAFL – “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Good luck – and happy computing!  Now get out to my website and ask some questions, or I’ll have to come up with another preachy topic next week!

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