History Lesson

We were a herd of around 40 teenage boys at Baltimore’s Poly High School, back in the day when it was guys only (the neighborhood girls went to Eastern). On a typical day, as the bell rang at the end of our history class and our small stampede headed for the door, the teacher always asked, “Did anyone here learn anything today?”

We were, of course, too busy stampeding to answer. But looking back, I don’t think he was seeking validation for his work, as much as really wanting to know if we had, in fact, learned something.

I’ve often reflected on the question at the end of another one of life’s endless supply of “growth opportunities.”

Which leads us to Facebook.

We all knew it was mining our data for all it was worth, but we probably believed it was so it could hone in on exactly what kind, brand and color of car ads with which to bombard us. That, of course, was just the start of it.

But I’ve been telling people, for far too long, not to take those endless “quizzes” on Facebook — what kind of ice cream you like, what city should you live in, and the most dubious of all, to answer the 10 questions and it’ll tell you in what year you were born.

Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m betting you already know what year you were born. So you’re giving Facebook 10 pieces of information about yourself to add to its expanding profile of you. Throw in some events you mark as attending, an occasional click on a sponsored page and a “like” of another, and bang. Your privacy is toast.

And why? So you can see if it’s really smart enough to guess the year? And, if you say yes or no, you’ve given Facebook an 11th piece of data.
The wholesale pillaging of not just our data but our friends is the big overstep here. Just because I’m naïve enough to take a quiz doesn’t mean you thus have access to all the names, addresses and personal information of my friends who didn’t click on the “end usage” permission block without reading it, like everyone does.

Also, so much for the Facebook mantra of “we make our money by selling ads,” which was repeated by Mark Zuckerberg in his congressional testimony. Yeah, that payment from Cambridge Analytica was just beer money. Nothing to see here.

Perhaps one of the funniest images to come out of his appearance, by the way, was where his photo was edited to put him in the Star Trek uniform of Data, the android. The resemblance is somewhat uncanny, physically and especially in the manner of speaking.

So did anyone here learn anything today? Stop liking and sharing things, especially political, and for heaven’s sake stop asking me to like and share your post. No. Just don’t. Step away from the keyboard. Until Congress enacts something like the European privacy laws, you need to do it yourself.

And the Honest Ads Act, requiring notice of exactly who paid for that interesting political screed, would be a great step as well. Some of this is coming, but you’re still your best personal defense.

What If?

John Dvorak, PC Magazine’s resident curmudgeon, asked an interesting question in his recent posting: “What if Amazon closed up shop tomorrow?”

Besides being one of the world’s largest retailers, Amazon has the world’s largest cloud services business, with servers powering every part of modern commerce and services, such as streaming movies.
Is your life/business so tied up in Amazon that you would be harmed? If you sell on Amazon, and many people are discovering that as a way to expand their business, what happens to your inventory that it has and uses for quick shipping and, more importantly, your accounts receivable? Do you use it as a supplier, with two-day shipping and good prices, so you don’t have to keep as much inventory on hand?

And what if you, as an individual, lost your history of things routinely ordered? Would you be able to recreate sources for much of what you use? And Alexa would just be a shining paperweight.

What struck me, however, as a techno-wienie, was the number of people who depend on Amazon for their backups and other, “Oh my god, it’s gone” files, such as family photos. Being dependent on any online service is such a bad idea. Companies have gone out of business before, even giants like Amazon. Is it too big to fail? Do you think the feds would step in to help if it did? Not likely, especially if you listen to President Trump.

So how do you protect yourself? The retail angle may be hard to cover, but backups and photos? External hard drive prices are dropping to party-favor levels. Two terabyte drives are routinely under $70 and four terabytes under $100. They come with automatic backup software.

Buy one. Use it. Sleep better.

Cliff Feldwick is owner of Riverside Computing and does PC troubleshooting, network setups and data retrieval for small businesses, when not being far too overly amused by Photoshopped pictures of Mark Zuckerberg. He can be reached at 410-880-0171 or at [email protected]. Older columns are available online at http://feldwick.com.