As an educational technology evangelist at work (school), in my service projects, and research, I keep abreast of the latest technology innovations, instructional integrations, and issues. So when email servers such as Yahoo are hacked, and I am a subscriber, I close my account. Initially, Yahoo stated 1 billion users were hacked in 2013; the latest account states that all accounts were hacked totaling 3 billion (NPR, October 2017).
If you’re a techie, especially someone who promotes the use and safeguards of technology at the workplace, what does it say about you if you’re still using it? For me, it was difficult to close my Yahoo account because it was tied to many professional Yahoo Groups such as my alma mater’s outreach to instructional design alumni and the TESOL Electronic Village Online virtual moderating group of educators for training. I also closed my Tumblr account because Yahoo owns it. To protect our online data, we must take precautions and desist from using potentially dangerous technology even as seemingly mundane as a free email account.
Social media networks such as Facebook are definitely more difficult to stop using when they place user’s data at risk because of the connections we built with friends, family, and organizations. Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy, to access the data of 50 million users without their permission (TechCrunch, March 2018). Of particular rancor, besides the possible effect on the 2016 US election, is that Cambridge Analytica was able to access your friends’ and family’s data. This means your use of Facebook could put other people’s data at risk and vice versa! Grandma may be having a great time on Facebook connecting with everyone, but has she configured her settings to safeguard her data? This year, 50 million Facebook accounts were also hacked (CNN Business, October 2018).
Facebook is unsafe because of their misuse of our data for financial gain and system vulnerabilities to hackers. Furthermore, they can do better! We should expect more from tech giants especially for platforms that we want grandma to use. I closed my Facebook account in May after downloading all my photos and letting my connections know other ways to reach me. Facebook also owns Instagram, so I closed it, too. No, I don’t plan on going back. Instead, I’m connecting via other means. It has been extremely difficult to not be connected on FB with my friends and family. On the bright side, I’ve noticed I have real conversations with family regarding milestones because, otherwise, I’m out of the loop.
“Facebook can feel relatively benign and passive. It’s a tool we use to procure information, camaraderie or great products. We forget, all too often, that it is a business, with interests and purposes of its own. We forget that it can leverage our information for profit. Its power over our lives is largely hidden under a veneer of passivity and algorithmic detachment (The Washington Post, March 2018). Technology is only useful if it’s consistently helpful, and its misuses are minimalized through rigorous safeguards.
P.S. To keep up with Facebook’s and other sites’ security breaches, see Wikipedia’s List of Data Breaches. It’s current.
Sandra Annette Rogers, Ph.D.