Monday, April 9, 2018

Turning Off the Tap

With all the crap that came out, over the past month, about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, it made me re-examine my footprint on social media and how much of myself I have given away over the years.

Not that I think I'm a target (although, I guess we all are), nor do I fear that my identity will be stolen (although, that's happened before), but I do feel that, like millions of other people, I give my information away so freely through all of the social-media apps that I use.

Over the years, I've only used Facebook to keep in touch with family and those friends who I feel are as close as family. I've tried to refrain from clicking links that are unrelated to those family members and friends, and I don't get sucked into those quizzes that try to determine what kind of dipping sauce I am or which celebrity I look like the most.

I don't need to do the latter: when I lived in Korea, some of my students told me I look like Tom Cruise. Or Brad Pitt. Or Clint Eastwood. They had as much accuracy as these quizzes.

But over the weeks that followed the Facebook fiasco, I looked deeper into my account, severed connections with people who, because they never post on the app, I had forgotten were connected to me.

I tightened some of the permissions to the account. For a few days, I wouldn't even allow Facebook to access the camera or photos on my smartphone. Though, in doing so, I wouldn't be able to share pictures of my kids with family, or snapshots of the cats.

I may turn my camera off again.

I went through my Twitter account, took a look at the hundreds of people I followed. If I couldn't remember the person or recall why I started following them in the first place, I clicked the Following button, and would follow them no more. I clicked people or organizations that I remembered following but couldn't remember the last time I saw a tweet from them. With those people, I clicked on their profiles to see their activity, looking to see whether I should continue following them or whether I should cut them loose.

I recommend that you try this, yourself.

If these folks hadn't tweeted in more than a year, or hadn't tweeted something original (that is, not a re-tweet) in more than six months, I stopped following them. Last week, I stopped following more than 100 people and organizations and I'm still culling the herd.

I've done the same with LinkedIn. And, with this social-media tool, I no longer connect with people I don't know, with only one exception: if that person works for an Ottawa human-resources firm that I've heard of, I'll consider connecting. (Hey, you never know what the future holds, and it's good to have a safety net.)

This past week, I've gone the furthest in protecting my privacy with one of the social-media apps that I use at least once a week: my Untappd account.

At first, I removed the app altogether from my phone and tablet, but soon realized that I do like to use it as a database for the beer that I consume. I never logged every beer I cracked open, but I did make sure to catalog each new beer. It's a great tool to have when someone asks me if I've tried a beer, and I don't remember. I can type in that beer and instantly see if I've had it, where I consumed it, and when.

But apart from the database, I no longer want a program to share what I happen to be drinking. If I feel like I want to share information about a great ale, I'll write a Beer O'Clock review.

So, I put the app back onto my phone, but not my tablet (I almost never seem to use a tablet anymore, anyway). I turned off permissions to my files and storage spaces, and to my camera. I'll no longer need to keep a picture of what I'm drinking (again, unless I'm reviewing it, in which case I'll take a planned photo with my D-SLR). I turned off location settings and I removed all connections.

Untappd keeps track of the new beer that I discover, but no longer keeps a photo of it, no longer tracks where I drink the beer, and shares no information with other users of the app.

I've turned off the taps, so to speak.

Social media, I feel, is still important. But we must be the ones who control it. It's our lives, after all. I know that in the Internet age, we can't be totally private if we're going to own the technology. But we need to send a message that we have a right to share only when we want to do so.

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