I mean, this was years ago. But I need to be clear: I think about this stuff a lot. I'm in front of this monitor and keyboard a lot. I do this thing a lot.
I'm not a security expert, authority, dilettante, or hobbyist. Just a guy who worries.
And I've always been interested, always. I've written often about how fortunate I feel, to be a young man at the dawn of all of this. I worked on my first network in 1978. I tangled with Wang word processors and hydrids of all sorts in those days, not quite having the means to invest in one of those IBM things that Alan Alda hawked on TV. I could dream, though.
I started a business in 1990 and needed a PC, and so on. I was always an early adopter, wandering the edges of online communication in the pre-internet, Prodigy days of bulletin boards and primitive email.
I joined Facebook at the first opportunity, in 2007 when they finally opened the doors to non-college students. It was just another thing, and seemed a poor substitute for the stuff we'd been doing online for a while by then. A way for the uninitiated to play, I supposed, without having to learn things. I barely paid attention for a couple of years.
But at some point, when bells and whistles had been added on what seemed like a daily basis, when Farmville invaded my feed and almost drove me away from the site, giving me a peek at how friends pass the time and not a good peek, either--at some point, I noticed.
Some app, some game, something was requesting access. To my personal stuff. Friends, data, vital statistics. Just a dumb game or something. And I paused to consider.
And now we know.
I wasn't prescient, just interested. I read articles on the subject. I watched countless people fall for email scams, scams they'd sneer at if presented in a letter, or phone call, but somehow acquired the sheen of respectability because they were on the computer machine. Smart people, not so smart, didn't matter; they wanted to believe Bill Gates would send them money if they just forwarded an email, so they did.
So I saw the road ahead. Thus I worried. I worried about relatives, about friends, about people who didn't obsess and research and daydream about identity theft and worse.
I became a Facebook scold, for a long time, knowing what I was getting myself into and how unfun that kind of behavior is, and still I did it. People get snippy when you point out how gullible they are. I don't blame them. I eventually gave up, for the most part. But I could see it happening.
And yeah, as I posted on Facebook yesterday, I wrote about Cambridge Analytica a year ago, when I first read about the whole thing, its benign origins in a scientific setting. the theft of an idea, the bad guys seeing the dark light.
I didn't have to dig, and I didn't feel special. It was right there, on the screen. You have to know where to look, but it's really not that hard. You just had to be interested.
I don't know the answer, either. Maybe this will do it. Maybe I'll get inspired, or someone smarter and more knowledgeable will work out a solution.
A few months ago, I managed to persuade a few FB friends to take simple measures, the best one being to lock down your list of friends. Anyone can join Facebook and call themselves Chuck Sigars, swipe my profile picture, and if my friends are public swipe them, too. Send them friend requests and hope for an easy opening. It's simple and easy and yet people chalk it up to being hacked and change their password, ignoring the logical inconsistency (if someone hacks your account/password, you will know. First clue? You probably can't log on) and the easy solution.
I mean, this is basic internet hygiene, although, again: I've been doing this awhile. I grasped that bad guys were searching for vulnerable email accounts, and I deleted all contacts from each of my accounts except my main one, which is Gmail and as secure as we can get at the moment. That's assuming someone breaks into my Yahoo or old AOL or another account, which is not likely given that I've taken other measures, too. But it's pretty basic protection, and it easily transfer to Facebook.
But I've given up for the most part. You guys are on your own.
Nobody likes that guy, for one thing. And nobody will listen, not really. I get this. No one wants to feel dumb, or naive, or clueless about technology, particularly when answers were right in front of them.
Just as an example, not really related to data mining: I have many friends on the progressive side of politics, and some of them really, really like to engage with contrary opinions. I see some of these people do this every day, comment on a media post or something similar, something that gets hundreds or thousands of comments, arguing with other commenters, making incendiary and provocative statements, and apparently completely unaware that there's a word for what they are, and it's troll.
Because they know about trolling, and how awful it is and annoying, and how it's destroying civility and access to good information. And they couldn't possibly be one of those guys.
And they laugh at emails from Nigerian princes while they hand over access to a useful app that tells them who they were in a previous life (Emily Dickinson, probably). Not a dupe, not me.
The thing is, I saw such hope for social media. Still do, too. Maybe this shakeup will do the trick, or we'll just spread out, some of us on Twitter, some on Instagram, some on something new that hasn't been built yet. We're human beings. We need each other.
And I'm preaching to the choir here, probably, I know. There are only a few friends, in fact, that I pay attention to at any rate, on Facebook and other sites who don't seem particularly savvy when it comes to these things. By now, pretty much everyone I know has cleaned their act up, burned and learned. I just want to save the world in general. How's that working out?
There are fun things, though, and mostly I find these on Instagram. From the beginning (and yes, Facebook now owns Instagram), I saw this as probably the perfect social medium. Post a picture, post a description, add some hashtags (well, don't, but you will. It's fine). Make some of those Stories, which I haven't figured out yet but I enjoy immensely.
And if you want just one suggestion, follow @msjennafischer on the 'gram. Jenna Fischer played Pam Beasley-Halpert on The Office (American version) for 99 years or something, always a charmer, managing sweetness wrapped inside insecurity without ever getting hackneyed. I love that show and I loved her Pam, and at some point I started following her on Twitter.
I follow a few celebrities, usually only for a short time, or else they so seldom post that I've forgotten. A few I stick with, because they're funny or else informative, or at least entertaining. I'm thinking she was all of these, probably, but I really can't remember.
And eventually I migrated to her Instagram account, just because. I wished her well, knowing she'd accumulated millions and millions and didn't need the work, but needed the work, y'know? So I watched, hoping something would turn up, and things have. A film here and there, a web series, a limited series, some appearances, a new book (on being a young actor, looks good, not for me anymore), and now a new network show (Splitting Up Together, based on a Danish sitcom, premiering next week on ABC).
Doing a big publicity push here, she's started doing those stories, and I've suddenly remembered why this is all so special, really. She's goofy, just learning as she goes, completely relatable and human and just charming, giving us a glimpse into a life that we know is very different from ours (it would have to be) but at the same time? Not so much. Just a mom. Just a woman. Just a person, going about life business, show business, business business.
And she does a thing with her mouth like my wife does, so. You really need to watch. Those stories disappear after 24 hours, so you can't go back and catch the early ones, but I suspect it'll be fun, at least for a while.
Hopeful too. As I said.