Social Media Harvesting!

On Tuesday, 21st of June I started a little early morning debate about people posting status updates of 'your account will be hacked if...'. 


Now normally, anyone who knows me would be well aware that I don't get peeved off easily, this had hit a nerve that particular morning - being in A&E at the time didn't help!  So here is the short version of the debate and how you start to rectifying what people see, why you are opening yourself up to hacking (like a red rag to a bull) and what to do about it. 


As with everything I write, I will go for plain English!

Facebook - The Platform 

I'm not an avid Facebook user for personal reasons, but have studied the code behind it as part of an intelligent media module during my Masters.  It is held together using a variety of languages - at the end of the day, that is what the internet is built on.  I could annoy you with the details, but you don't need to know about it.  What you do need to know is what impact that has on you as a user!


It is built using a range of sophisticated algorithms and clever coding which unbeknownst to you tracks what you do, and why, because you give it permission to do so!  


Take today for example, you opened your Facebook account - yes?.. you entered a password and a username - yes?.. Has logic told you where that's stored, or have you ever thought about it? because someone has to have it, it's not powered on pixie dust unfortunately! 


It uses a great big database to store your content.  That content isn't just your password, it's what your name, first - last and username, where you are from (from Dublin living in Kerry), what date your birthday is and if you want the attention - who can see it, are you married, single, divorced etc., when you started your account, what sort of user are you, your habits i.e. do you just post funny memes? do you use it for work? do you log on more than once a day? if so, how long do you stay, where do you visit, who do you keep an eye on? are you female, or male... the list is endless and most of it is basic analytics.


So the first thing I will now urge you to do is go and login (preferably using a computer) - done, now go to your profile, see that ellipse (the tree dots), click it, hit the button below...


Now, do you see that black bar at the top of your screen? that is going to allow you to see what others, who aren't even connected to you can see - it's your public profile, the keyword being public.  Hit your about tab, what's open for harvesting? scared yet, because at this point half of a M.Sc. class gasped!

Now take it a step further, enter the name of anyone of your friends, close or otherwise - repeat the steps! What can they see?..


Based on what you seen as a public user - what is open to anyone to take without your knowledge? lots or very little?


Now lets get down to the Nitty Gritty stuff.

Settings? Why & Where?


You, like most people have been a Facebook user for quite a while.  You probably started it cause you wanted to keep in touch with people and like most, your nosy to some degree, so you do a little spying now and again! We will just call it keeping in touch shall we, a bit like 'Oh look, she's on holidays in the middle of a tropical island and the sun is out' admit it, we've all done it at one point or another. 


Lets ruin the fun in stalking, and help you with your settings!

So here we go - click on the top right of your screen where the drop-down arrow is in blue.  Click Settings (top right of screen), the first panel to open is General - here you can see what email account you are using, change your password, amend your url (we will in a second) and if you feel like it, change the way temperature is displayed (the excitement is unbearable). 


Go click on username - this can only be changed once with in a specific number of days, so pick carefully! see what's available that takes your fancy and submit it.  What you will see happen once your browser finished reloading is something along the lines of


Now click on Security - the first setting is one of the handiest, click it. Want to know when that person who wants to be you had logged into your account, well Facebook's robots can alert you! Do you want to make that dudes life harder, click the next setting on the list - Login Approvals.  The rest, unless you are a web geek like, ignore!

My favorite is up next PRIVACY!


As you seen above when  you used 'view as' certain things appear, others not so much depending on what setting you use on your 'wall'. This is where privacy is key


How I think of this is - you just bought your first house, the previous owner has just handed you the keys and left a lovely welcome package in the hall! Sounds cool - yes? What you didn't ask the previous owner is if he gave you all the spare keys.  Guess where privacy matters! Privacy are all those spare sets of keys you never knew existed - ready to call the lock smith?


My general rule of thumb is 'would I want my grandmother to see it'.  Now she is 100 and tough as old boots, heck she owns and uses an iPad! so think about it, we all have stuff we posted once upon a time on a drunken night out with our best friend that a 100 year old would kill you for right after she stopped laughing!  So lets set-up our privacy levels.  Have a read through them, they are fairly self explanatory!


Under the last section it says 'Who can look me up?' lets think about that dude sitting behind a laptop somewhere around the world who is wide away drinking coffee & red bull! He has just looked at your account and thought, 'Hey lets click on the About tab', he's already probably seen your profile photo, lets have a goo.  Oh look email address - score, date of birth - score, single - score, she likes x, y, z - score, you get the idea! Now, lets see how quick I can get in, so lets make his hobby harder!


Who do you want to look you up by email address or phone - typically they are used to grow your circle - yes? so friends might be the answer! Do you want to be 'Googleable' i.e. do you want search engines to find you? unless you are famous, then the answer is typically NO! are you with me so far - great stuff!


Timeline & Tagging

So John, the office nerd is friends with you on Facebook, he's just back from the office party and as a nerd doesn't drink because he thinks it will damage his computerized brain, and he has some sobering memories of you at the party and the pictures to prove the devilment you were up-to! You want to see them before the world and its father will on your timeline.  Here's how we vex the nerd!


First and foremost - the only one I allow post to my timeline is me (I'm little OCD like that) so hit me!  Now right below it lets vex John- hit Review posts - and set it to on! Anyone that attempts to post on your timeline, you have to manually approve what they want to post - sounds arduous but it is worth that extra five seconds of your life! John's pictures of you belly dancing need to be approved before your Facebook friends see them!

The others, well have a read and decide! that's what the sub heading is in there for!



So John is at it again, he has cheesed you off and you want rid of him completely with the option open to spy on him later - go hit the word Blocking - add his name to your list of individuals who annoy you beyond explanation!


Now scroll down and where it says block apps - those awful games that John used to send you 200 notifications an hour about - tell Facebook to block the app! enter it's name and pick it from the list!  The poor dude thinks you have left Facebook - that is all he knows!


John has started an allegiance to all things nerd page and he wants you to join it - without crushing his spirit - tell Facebook quietly that you never want to know about it!  John is now scratching his head cause he can't figure out why you can't be added to the page! but his spirit is thankfully intact! :)



If you are like me, you don't want those 200 game requests, page adds, and all those other annoyances to flood your emails or phone - tell Facebook how you would like to handle them - being in control feels good doesn't it!


Now, lets scare you!

The average Facebook user has at one point or another played games online, answered silly quizzes, or authenticated some form of third party app - so lets click on Apps!

A host of names will appear - did you even realize their were so many!

Go take the trash out by giving them a clean up! These all have access in one form or another to your profile - you just didn't read the fine print when playing Candy Crush, did you? so you have given those companies permission to gather data from you profile, you were just too lazy that day to read what the screen said! We've all done it!

The rest well...


The other settings below this, they are worth a look, but unless you are using it for business or as a development platform, have a read below.


Social Media Harvesting

what it should mean for you - the user!

So you have read all of the above, you've changed the settings and you still want to know more - brilliant!


Social Media is a set of platforms that were initially intended to 'bring people together' at the time of it's inception it was genius! MySpace being the first I can remember, then Bebo, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to name but a few.  Sounds idyllic, a happy little commune where we can all live happily ever after (said with just a hint of sarcasm!)


What it has ended up becoming - well that's down to you, the user!


I've lost the lure I had to be on Facebook about a year and a bit ago, but for work, well it's key for Digital Marketing, same as other platforms are.  What most users don't realize is how open we are, how much information we have given massive corporations and we didn't even know we were doing it at the time. 


When you logged into Facebook this evening you might have seen (for example) two of your friends are on holidays, they are off riding elephants at a safari park in Africa, you get the gist... those photos alone with the location setting turned on in their phone will give the game away - why?  Well, John the idiot posted the photo and he tagged Mary, so it's on her timeline too, right after she approved it, so he and she are now telling the world they are on Safari and cause he's a nerd, he's said the general location by checking in, a few thousand miles away from his little shabby chic nerd enthusiasts apartment. 


When he was publishing it he didn't say I only want my 'friends' to see it, he left it as 'public'.  Well, now the world can see his and Mary's timeline that they are on safari, so lets break into there houses which you have told them in the about tab is located in Tralee (for example).  So while John and Mary are off in Africa have a great time, burglars are have a field day in both of their houses raiding the Grandmothers good China, she's going to be devastated!

Had John had his nerd hat on, and read this article, he would have changed the privacy to 'friends' as the default! you catch my thinking?!.. Mary will kill him when she realizes who's fault it is!


Now, lets go back to that photo I mentioned above. John doesn't care about his battery so he has the Geo Location switched on.  Still that photo can be used and manipulated even further.  Most photos store 'bits', we will call it data for now. 


Have you ever Googled an image and said 'I'll have that', taken it and used it?  Almost everyone has at one point or another.  Well most images contain meta data or keywords encrypted into the photo and you know nothing about it - even if it is only the authors name.  So just because you don't say I'm in an exact location, it doesn't mean you aren't sharing more than you think.  Geo Location is, to me, ingenious!


I've seen projects built using just one image of specific location around the country.  The developer holds the tracker i.e. iPad to the image, the app clicks on specific features within the image and displays what that location is, where it is, and a bit about it.  It's what you do when you check in to a specific area if you think carefully about it.


Lets talk tools!
read here

So what are they?  They are super sophisticated pieces of software that based on your settings can come in, take a bunch of about tab information and store it for use. 


What will that achieve?  Well the harvester has come into the platform (think of a field with lush green grass ready to cut), they have decided - right Tralee is my target this evening, lets get cutting! It then decides to find everyone who will show up and say they are from Tralee.  Now lets see how many have birthday's in a specific month, lets see how many are on holidays, how often they feed the cat, visit the corner store etc. it makes recommendations based on the information provided i.e. those keywords!


All these pieces of information are useful in the harvesters search for a set of users, or individuals within a particular demographic, gender, age pool etc..  The more open that information is, the easier you make it for the driver of that harvester - make them work for it - change your settings!


At the end of the day - it is your fault if the harvester
and the driver can access your page!


lets keep it real people!

Yes they are annoying, but lets face it - they are necessary!

I've been using a variation of two passwords for the last six years and never been hacked, or had any attempts! Why, well it's not something predictable like my date of birth or the dogs name.  I use a set of variations, each have upper and lower case depending on platform requirements, each contain letters and numbers and I change them every six to twelve months.


I could go on for hours but at this point, and will probably post further articles about it, but for now I will bow out in the hope you are wiser after reading this article and I can only hope that my humor will make you remember it!


Change the way you use Social Media - Facebook in particular and if anyone has any queries - check me out online! or

Social Media

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