Social Media

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Many people had their eyes opened last week as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg explained how millions of people had given away their right to privacy. They never read the fine print.

People were shocked to discover that the big internet companies provide "free" services by selling advertisements and customer data. The intelligence gathering capabilities of the internet giants rival that of the NSA and the CIA and can be made available to businesses, governments, politicians and criminals. Social media itself has been turned into a marketing machine by companies reaching into affinity groups to draw out customers. Your private data is now simply another commercial commodity.

The truth is that it is not illegal or immoral for these companies to commercialize your data if you have given them permission to do so. But they can only use the data you provide, and real problems can arise when you are careless with your postings. For example, young people can be tarred for life by an inappropriate sexual post or an immature opinion broadcast to the world. Careers can be ruined by a foolish rant. Then there are people who tell all about their upcoming vacations only to find out upon their return that the burglars were also listening and have cleared out their homes.

Of course, the larger risks come from invasions of privacy that are not self-inflicted. Everyone should know by now that hackers can reach almost anything put on the internet and connected to a computer. Online banking opens up your bank account to hackers and, if it is your fault, the bank may not be obligated to cover your losses. Government snoops can also gain access to your data and your bank accounts. Sometimes governments seem to work in hand with hackers, as in a recent case where a couple received a large state income tax bill from a place 1000 miles away because of the activities an identity thief and the state's willingness to overlook the obvious fraud.

So how can you protect yourself against the internet privacy invasion? First, simply do not put any confidential information or identification information (Social Security Number, birth date, place of birth, home address) on social media, or just don't use social media. Second, if you must do financial transactions on the internet, use a service like Pay Pal and/or use only one bank account with a limited balance. Third, protect yourself against financial hacks by limiting or eliminating your ability to wire money out of your bank accounts using online banking. Finally, pay attention to unusual events such as a state income tax bill from a faraway state.

Never forget that the internet is a lawless place. Every time you are tempted to put something out remember the words of Solomon:

"A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims foolishness" (Prov. 12:23).

Ron Allen is a Christian businessman, CPA and author who serves in local, national and international ministries, spreading a message of reconciliation to God, to men and between believers. He is founder of the International Star Bible Society, telling how the heavens declare the glory of God; the Emancipation Network, which helps people escape from financial bondage; and co-founder with his wife, Pat, of Corporate Prayer Resources, dedicated to helping intercessors.

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