Staying Safe Online

November 2, 2015

Included in Chapter Seven of Connecting to Kink

Guarding Your Privacy Online

If you log onto any fetish or social media site, you are liable to see the following message (or something similar) on various profiles:

WARNING: Any institutions or individuals using this site or any of its associated sites for studies or projects, profit or nonprofit projects — You DO NOT have my permission to use any of my profile or pictures in any form or forum both current and future. You may not cut, copy, paste anything from/off my profile including photos, videos and/or writings in any way, shape or form. If you have or do, it will be considered a violation of my privacy and will be subject to legal ramifications.

Be aware this warning is meaningless. It’s not a legally binding statement. The legal document you signed, by accepting the TOS (terms of service) when setting up a profile on any site, trumps anything you post and probably says pretty much the opposite.

The most important thing to understand when creating an account on any website that is free (and even some that charge a fee) is that you’re not the consumer, you’re the product.

Now, on Facebook and other conventional social media sites, the most embarrassing thing anyone else might learn about you is somewhat limited by the restrictions the site has on what you can post.

But, sites like Fetlife and Collarspace have no such restrictions. And the product is no longer just your gossip and cute pictures of your pets. It’s your sex life.

I’ve Seen That Face Before

Unless you can afford being outed as a kinkster, don’t post naked pictures of yourself in bondage with whip marks on your ass if they also show your face, tattoos, piercings, or other identifiable body modifications recognizable to anyone else who might stumble across them … or go looking for them. Don’t use pictures that show identifiable backgrounds, or that you may have also uploaded to a conventional social media site or to a website connected with your legal name. Check the background. Can you read the certificate perhaps showing your legal name that you hang on your bedroom wall?

A website that requires you to log on offers nothing to make you or your identity safe. Don’t believe that no one can see your photographs unless they’re also logged in. And don’t believe any promises of privacy offered by a site, because they’re not accurate.

For one thing, anyone can create a free email account on any one of a dozen sites while providing no information that can be traced back to them. They can then use that email address to create an account on the site you think is protecting you from non-kinksters’ eyes.

Further, those photographs can be accessed without logging in. Fetish sites are often free or partially free. They don’t invest money in security that protects the content. And there’s no guarantee that if you post a photograph that you’ll ever be able to delete it. Even if it is removed from a site, it’s probably still in the cloud storage system used by that site and therefore recoverable by anyone who knows what they’re doing. People have had deleted, “private” photos they posted online used against them in court.

If the photo you posted was taken with your smartphone, chances are the file contains data about where and when it was taken and other information that can be used to identify you.

Combine all these security holes with facial recognition software (which can deliver matches even when years, facial hair, weight, and makeup change someone’s appearance) and you have a recipe for disaster. What would happen if your boss found the picture of you getting gang banged or the private detective hired by your ex who’s fighting you for custody of your children turned up a photograph of you hanging naked and upside down in bondage or a prospective employer discovered images of you whipping someone chained to a rack?

Online privacy is almost nonexistent. I’ve always said that you should never post anything online that you wouldn’t want your boss, your elderly grandmother, your worst enemy, and the IRS to see — or at least don’t post it if there’s any way it can be traced back to you.

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Play at your own risk

April 13, 2010

Included in Chapter Seven of Connecting to Kink

I am constantly amazed by how willing people are to expose themselves to potential harm because someone makes it sound like fun. Most recently, I saw a rash of updates on Twitter stating “Just took ‘Which Crazy Writer Are You?’ and got: _____” which was, of course, posted with a link so others could try it.

I checked out the quiz and discovered that after you answer all the question, in order to get any results, you must hand over your Twitter user name and password. Why in the world would anyone do that? How do they know what the quiz creator will do with that information? (I got a clue about what the quiz creator intended later when I saw apologies along the lines of “Sorry if the ‘Crazy Writer’ quiz spammed everyone” accompanied by claims that they “didn’t realize it would do that.”)

No one creates Twitter quizzes, Facebook games, and applications such as Foursquare because they want to entertain you for free. They’re in it for money and they’re using your data to get it. For example, every time you sign up for a Facebook game, you give the developer of that application permission to access ALL of your personal data, including your “private” emails.

Facebook stripped away almost all pretense of privacy (while claiming to enhance it), when it changed default settings to make anything posted on Facebook public unless the poster goes to great lengths to keep the information private. Many categories of information — including your name, profile photo, list of friends and fan pages, gender, geographic region, and applications — no longer even have privacy options.

If you choose to lock your Twitter page to “protect” your tweets, your followers can still retweet them. Your tweets show up on Google searches of your name. The United States Library of Congress is archiving every single tweet.

At least one man believes his home was burglarized as a result of announcements about his vacation to his Twitter followers. The whole point of foursquare.com, as far as I can tell, is to tell everyone, via Twitter, where you are at any given moment, leaving yourself vulnerable to stalkers and burglars. Even those who don’t participate in Foursquare, are urged by Twitter to add their location to each tweet.

The The Internet Patrol warns: “There is an inherent problem – dare we even say it – danger – with letting the world know where you are or, even, where you aren’t.

“For example, do you really want some Twitter whacko stalking you at your place of employment? Or following you to a restaurant? Or even to your home?”

Scambusters warns that “you should be aware of the amount and type of information you’re giving out that can be used against you.”

Insurance companies are demanding access to online information about you without your explicit consent. Creditors and prospective employers are checking out your Facebook and Twitter accounts.

People have gotten fired, lost opportunities for employment, and had their disability benefits taken away because of Facebook posts. Businesses have had brands and goodwill destroyed by Twitter campaigns (sometimes deservedly). Personally, I have stopped following many of those on my Facebook friends’ list, because while I might want to know if they sold a story or won an award, I have no interest in reading about their activities on FarmVille, Candy Crush, etc.

Certainly, if you choose to hand over your passwords and other personal information to unknown developers, that’s your prerogative. Just don’t be surprised, or complain, when that data is used against you.