Update: Social Networking Sites: Understanding the Real Costs and Dangers

publication date: Mar 22, 2018

Update March 22, 2018: Facebook's recent problems with sharing and exposing of user personal information and data is hardly new or surprising. Back when Facebook went public in 2012 with a staggering $100 billion valuation, the company was faced with a consolidation of numerous privacy invasion class action lawsuits. As I have highlighted in the past, using social networking sites carries significant risks (see original article below) that most folks are unaware of.

I've always had some trepidation about social networking sites. It's not that I'm not a social fellow. It's simply that I've been aware of enough scams and other problems in the real world that these new mediums seemed to me to provide an opportunity for user abuse.

I must confess, though, a moment of weakness in recent years. It was caused I guess in part by guilt and feeling a bit left out. My email box kept filling up with invitations to connect with friends and work colleagues from years past. So, I activated a Facebook account as well as other accounts on several, popular social networking sites.

Some months passed and my "friends" and "connections" mushroomed. Actually, I should say it was more like weeds sprouting up because outside of superficial online exchanges, I didn't really converse in any meaningful way with my connections.  

And, then I get infected. More specifically, my computer got infected. A computer forensics specialist I hired was able to pinpoint that I got infected via a Facebook link I clicked. The computer virus was a nasty one which ended up costing me hundreds of dollars out of pocket and down time. (No customer data was accessed or compromised).


Around this time, I was reading more and more stories about security breaches and lack of privacy concerns at Facebook and on other social networking sites so I immersed myself in the topic to learn more. The results and findings are in this article to warn you of the significant and growing dangers posed by these sites and your participation on them.

Why You Should Close Your Accounts on Social Networking Sites

Consider this: When you use an investment company web site to access and conduct business on your accounts, you consider the security of the site. You wouldn't want someone gaining illegal access to your account and neither does the investment company which would be held liable in most instances that were not the fault of the account holder.

But, when visiting a social networking site, most folks let their guard down and aren't thinking about security issues. And, guess what? The firm operating the social networking website isn't thinking and spending anywhere near as much on security as an investment company does. Thus, the stories about security breaches on social networking sites shouldn't come as a surprise (nor should my computer's infection with a virus via Facebook).

Here then are the primary reasons why you should shun social networking sites:

  • 500 Million Users. That's how many registered users Facebook claims to have worldwide. Studies have shown, however, that a large portion (40 percent or more) of these profiles are fake. Now, consider this question: How many millions of people - e.g. criminals, sexual predators, people and companies trying to sell you something - would you choose to avoid in real life? They are all over social networking sites trolling for "prospects" including you.
  • Poor security track record. There have been scores of news reports about security lapses and breaches on Facebook and other prominent social networking sites. As I mentioned earlier, this stems in large part due to an underinvestment and lack of commitment and concern about user's security issues.
  • Internet based crime including identity theft is rising sharply especially via Facebook according to network security experts I spoke with. On an annual basis, such crime is now estimated to cost users about $1 billion.
  • Exposure to costly viruses. As I explained earlier in this article, this is what happened to one of my computers. Viruses and other links that expose your personal passwords are  especially dangerous given many people's tendency to use the same password on other sites, including banking and investing sites, they use.
  • Sharing of personal information with others for marketing and solicitation purposes. This problem should also not be a surprise given that the social networking sites are "free" and they need to find a way to make money.


Closing Your Social Networking Accounts

I guess I should have expected that when I went to close my social networking accounts, doing so wouldn't be nearly as easy and quick as it was to open them. After hunting around a bit and doing some searches, I succeeded in closing my accounts.

On Facebook, for example (see below), you click on the "Account" tab in the upper right hand corner and then the "Settings" tab and then select the "Deactivate Account" option near the bottom of the screen. You will then see pictures of several of your friends with warnings of how much they will miss you. Then Facebook wants you to tell them why you wish to deactivate your account by clicking on one of the reasons (see list below) after which they'll try to talk you into staying (see the response that appeared after I clicked the first reason). 

Reason for leaving (Required):
  • I get too many emails, invitations, and requests from Facebook.
    You can control what email you receive from us here.
  • I don't understand how to use Facebook.
  • I don't find Facebook useful.
  • I spend too much time using Facebook.
  • I have a privacy concern.
  • I have another Facebook account.
  • This is temporary. I'll be back.
  • I don't feel safe on Facebook.
  • Other
Please explain further:
Email opt out: Opt out of receiving future emails from Facebook
Note: Even after you deactivate, your friends can still invite you to events, tag you in photos, or ask you to join groups. If you opt out, you will NOT receive these email invitations and notifications from your friends.

Alternatives to Social Networking Sites

Consider for a moment what the world was like before the Internet took hold. When I wished to connect with "someone," I would pick up the phone and call that person and have an interactive conversation with them. Voicemail began to change communication and then e-mail really began to change things. Now, texting and other methods have taken us even further from personal conversations.

These newer communication methods certainly are worth using but let's not forget the good, old fashioned one-on-one interactive communication possible only with a phone call or an in person get together.

More Security Mistakes to Guard Against

If you're going to use any type of networking site online, tread carefully. CSO checked in with dozens of IT security professionals to identify common mistakes people make when using networking sites, and how to avoid them. (CSO provides news, analysis and research on a broad range of security and risk management topics.)

  • Over-sharing company activities. This is a sin of pride, when someone gets excited about something their company is working on and simply must tell everyone about it...By sharing too much about your employer's intellectual property on social networks, you threaten to put it out of business by tipping off a competitor who could then find a way to duplicate the effort or find a way to spoil what they can't have by hiring a hacker to penetrate the network or by sneaking a spy into the building.
  • Mixing personal with professional. This is the case where someone uses a social network for both business and pleasure, most commonly on Facebook, where one's friends include business associates, family members and friends. The problem is that the language and images one shares with friends and family may be entirely inappropriate on the professional side.
  • Engaging in Tweet (or Facebook/LinkedIn/Myspace) rage. For the person who has just been laid off or had their professional integrity called into question online, the urge to fire back with a stream of vitriol can be irresistible.
  • Believing he/she who dies with the most connections wins. For some social networkers, it's all about accumulating as many connections as possible. Folks on LinkedIn are notorious for doing this, especially those in such LinkedIn groups as TopLinked and LION. This may seem harmless enough or, at the worst, just annoying. But when the name of the game is quantity over quality, it's easy to link or ‘friend' a scam artist, terrorist or identity thief.
  • Password sloth. Another common sin is one of laziness, in this case picking passwords for your social networks that you're least likely to forget. In many cases, that means using the same password for LinkedIn and Facebook that you're using for your online bank account or work machine. If someone with malicious intent figures out the password for one social network, that person can now go and access everything else. Using the same password on several sites is like trusting the weakest link in a chain to carry the same weight.
  • Trigger finger (clicking everything, especially on Facebook). Facebook in particular is notorious as a place where inboxes are stuffed with everything from drink requests to cause requests. For some social networkers, clicking on such requests is as natural as breathing. Unfortunately, the bad guys know this and will send you links that appear to be from legitimate friends. Open the link and you're inviting a piece of malware to infect your machine.
  • Endangering yourself and others. All of the above tie into the seventh and perhaps most serious sin, which is that reckless social networking can literally put someone's life in danger. It could be a relative or co-worker. Or it could be yourself. Security experts advise extreme caution when posting birthday information, too much detail on your spouse and children, etc. Otherwise, they could become the target of an identity thief or others with criminal intent.


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Copyright Eric Tyson, 2008 - 2023 all rights reserved.

Eric Tyson is the only best-selling personal finance author who has an extensive background as an hourly-based financial advisor and who does not accept speaking fees, endorsement deals or fees of any type from companies in the financial services industry or product or service providers recommended in his articles, books and his publications.