Thursday, October 15, 2015

10 Personal rules for the Internet

Back in the day, there was no internet.  Being on a computer meant trading disks and installing programs and the most widely used word processor in the world had a blue background and straight up text.  The concept of the internet or a network of interconnected computers was more or less science fiction.  We all thought it was possible, but we didn't really know how.  Thanks to the US government for giving us the framework for the internet and industry for embracing it, now we have communication on a incomprehensible level.  When I say incomprehensible, what I mean is that we more or less don't have the capacity to understand it beyond what it means to us individually.  The internet to each of us is our email and our social media sites and youtube.  That's about it.  Some of us use it for more than that, but not much.  The rest of what the internet is doing in the background, that we don't pay attention to, is really big and has to do with all of us.  When Edward Snowden released the NSA documents on what they were doing with our information it started with a bang and fell down to a whimper.  The problem wasn't that it was very serious what the NSA and other 'alphabet' organizations were doing, the problem was that there was so much information there that the public at large was too impatient to pay attention for a long period of time and the information gets to be so overwhelming everyone just assumes that it's what we have to deal with.  Of course it's not true, but the NSA is the benefactor of our own intellectual sloth.  Well all of that being said, I've devised a list of 10 rules I try to follow when using the internet and my computer.  You might like some of them.

- Incognito for travel/purchases - This isn't a rule as much as it is good advice.  Incognito mode is a way for your browser to not keep history or leave cookies for where you are browsing.  The benefit to this is that some industries know that you will use your browser to shop for lowest price for whatever it is you are looking for and will attempt to find and use cookies you get from other websites.  Example.  You are looking for a plane ticket to Otumwa Iowa.  You go to a travel site and search for your best deal of a ticket.  It looks ok, but not quite what you were looking for.  You go to the next site and the prices seem strangely familiar even though you are looking at other airlines.  The more sites you look at the less competitive they appear to be.  Every price seems to be within 20 dollars or so of the others.  That's because they are looking at your cookies to see what you've been looking at and are making sure they stay competitive but aren't giving away the store.  If you turn off the cookies via incognito mode, every site will assume their site is your first visit and will have to give you a price they hope will keep you from looking further.  This of course is just an example.  I couldn't tell you if that's the way that specific industry works, but I know that each website has the capability to look at what you've been doing to adjust their advertising so when you are shopping, be a secret shopper.

- 2 factor as much as possible - This is the world of passwords and password management.  2 factor is the process of establishing 2 separate verification's that make it virtually impossible for someone to hack your account.  The most simple example is when a website asks you for your password and then asks you to enter the code that they will text your phone.  That second verification makes it very difficult for anyone to be able to assume your identity for that website.  In the world of hacking nothing is impossible, but it doesn't mean you should make it easy for them.

- open source for a better tomorrow - Are you looking for software that will let you do things like create a spreadsheet?  Draw a wireframe?  Nearly anything you need software for has an open source counterpart.  What is open source you may ask?  Open source is generally software that does not cost anything AND will allow you all or limited use right for the software code.  That means if you are of a mind you could change the software for your own use.  You don't get to change the open source software without going through a community that maintains the codebase.  For the rest of us, open source software has a couple of advantages over private software.  The code is evaluated in public for weaknesses and flaws.  This means that the more people that look at it, the better the code gets.  All that and the code is free.  The best way to find open source software is of course to use your favorite search engine search for open source and the software you would like. The other good search terms would be 'open source alternative microsoft word' to search for a microsoft word open source alternative.  There are lots of them.  Don't like windows?  Linux is free, and surprisingly easy to use.  Drawing?  Database?  Chat?  You name it, open source has it.

- Nothing replaces local backups - Lately you are hearing about the 'cloud'  for backing up your files.  I have nothing against online backups, but what happens if somehow you are not allowed to access your cloud files?  You still need to have local backups.  Getting a couple of inexpensive hard drives that you can back up your data files onto in rotation is really as much as you need.  Some people advocate keeping a drive in a safe deposit box and a drive at home and one more drive that you are doing your backups on.  every week or so you rotate the drives so your backups are never more than a week old.  I believe that all you really need is 2 drives, one in your office and one in the garage.  Yes natural disaster could take both drives out, but I submit that if that's the case, you have bigger fish to fry.

- You might forget, but the Internet will remember - Once again with social media, but the internet in general.  There is no real such thing as privacy.  Between hackers and governments, everything you do is very likely to be public information at some point.  Behave that way.  If you are on social media, watch what you say.  Businesses are not above looking at everything you do online to see if you are a 'right fit'.  Of course you are not ashamed of what you have posted on the other hand you might be.  Just be careful out there, on the internet, you ALWAYS leave a lasting impression.

- Avoid your ISP through proxy.  Tired of your Service provider snooping what you are doing?  If you don't know what I'm talking about, your ISP (internet service provider) is Comcast, Qwest, etc.  If a company is providing your internet, they basically have the ability to look at anything that you are doing online.  If you don't like their eyes, you can search online for High Speed proxy.  What a proxy service does is provides a secure gateway that goes through your ISP to another address and behaves as though you are originating from there.  Yes, who you use as your proxy service can then see what you are up to, but it's not your ISP.

- Mostly they just want your money - Remember, they are tracking you so they can get your money.  That's not all bad.  As capitalist consumers, we have an innate sense of ads and what they mean.  From gradeschool, we are taught how media advertisements manipulate us into favoring one product over another.  The internet plays no small role in this now.  Before you put your luddite hat on and leave the interwebs forever think of this.  Never before has advertising had the power to focus only on things you want.  I don't mind that at all...usually.

- Your friends friends are thieves - Social media time again.  This has to do with your vacations.  When you are going out of town or just across town to an event.  People have a natural tendency to post what they are doing on line so their friends can see what they are up to.  Well, if your friends can see it, it's likely that their friends can see it.  Your friends picked you as one of their friends.  That's because they have good taste.  Those other people your friends have as friends?  They are at best hangers on looking for some kind of connection to humanity, at worst they are con artists looking to take advantage of all of your friends friends.  That means you.  They see that you are out for a grand night out, they understand that you are probably not going to have anyone in the house for the next 3 hours or so.  That's more than enough time to take the best stuff out of your house.  So, if you have homeowners insurance, right now, before you do much else, take that fancy cellphone and video your various rooms in your house and catalog some of your more irreplaceable treasures.  Do that every so often and you will be prepared to make an accurate claim when insurance is paying you off.

- LastPass is your friend.  - LastPass is a password manager that works specifically with your online accounts.  It remembers your passwords for you and puts them into websites as they request them.  It's fairly easy to use and then you only have to remember your one password for getting to LastPass.  When you do it that way, you can store longer and more complicated passwords instead of the fort knox of passwords 1234.  Once you have that, make sure your password to LastPass is VERY long.  It's the only one you'll have to remember.

- Never 'win' other peoples posts - You are on your favorite social media and you see some post you don't agree with.  You decide to log your displeasure.  That's fine.  The poster then rebuts your well worded dissent with points of their own.  Unless you have something genuinely new to offer the discussion.  Do not reply.  Do not try to win the post by having the last word.  It's rude.  You want to further the argument, make you own post and see how people react to your thoughts.  Don't cook your barbecue on someone else's grill.

Well, there it is.  My internet rules and advice.

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