There appears to be a little confusion about what the Internet is, why it exists, and its rules of use. So, as a public service, I offer the following gentle reminder.
The internet is not a safe playground. It is a dark, dangerous, occasionally beautiful and sometimes fatal window into the dreams and nightmares of a civilization.
Everything you do on the internet is being recorded, stored, MapReduced, data-mined, segmented, and sold. Your name, address, phone number, and social security number are trivially accessible online. You do not own your own data.
From the standpoint of online safety, there is no functional difference between a smartphone app and a website.
All encryption, given enough time, can be cracked, hacked, subpoenaed, or social engineered around.
Anything you say, even in a “private” forum, will eventually be trivially searchable by anyone. Any photo, video, or other data you put in the cloud, will eventually be made public. Once something is made public, it cannot be taken back.
Real-time meat-space coordinates exposed through social media are also visible to predators and thieves, not just your friends.
The owners of every website you use, no matter how nice or idealistic, have dreams of becoming billionaires. They aren’t running their sites for your benefit. If something is free, then you’re the product.
You are the smallest fish in the food chain. There are governments, corporations, criminal organizations, and anonymous collectives of script kiddies who will eat you alive, should you come to their attention.
There are no safe web sites, only more and less dangerous ones. Any site might be hacked or bought, and their data distributed to unknown end points.
Pirated software and media aren’t free. You pay by acting as a vector for malware and attacks against others.
The internet isn’t this way because it’s been twisted into something it’s not. This is what the internet is.
It’s easy to say that “something should be done” to fix these problems, but there are no good choices. Protecting freedom helps everyone, including the bad guys. Restricting freedom hurts everyone except for the bad guys. Heads they win, tails we lose.
Ignorance of The Rules won’t protect you. Innocence won’t protect you. Youth won’t protect you. Laws won’t protect you. Being right won’t protect you. The Rules should not scare you off the internet, but ignoring them, willfully or not, will dramatically increase your odds of victimization.
The Rules are not an excuse for bad behavior. “They deserved it, they should have known better,” is a psychotic’s justification.
Basic stay-safe rules
- Don’t trust any website that promises the ephemerality of your data
- Don’t trust any website that promises not to track you
- Don’t trust any website that promises not to sell your data
- Don’t use the same password in multiple locations
- Never send something through the internet that you want to stay secret
- Never open an email attachment that you aren’t expecting
- Never believe anything in email from unknown senders
- Never respond to email from unknown senders
- Check with snopes before believing hysterical emails from friends and family
- Using Paypal is safer than giving your credit card number to an unknown web site [EDITED: see comments for discussion]
- Don’t trust any site that’s able to return your password to you when you click the “forgot password?” link
- Don’t reveal your physical location through social media in real time – there’ll be time enough to post your photos when you get back home
- Encryption is hard – don’t try to roll your own