Convenience and Security Conflict

More than a decade ago I was called in to do some work on the computer used by an office receptionist. After hearing the explanation, I sat down for what would be a rather easy job. Moments later, the receptionist interrupted me and said, “I guess you’ll need my password.” Problem was, I was already working on her PC.

I looked at her for a moment and then just pointed to the sticky note attached to the side of her monitor. On it was written her password. “Oh,” she said, “I’d forgotten about that. It’s hard to remember all my passwords, and sometimes someone else in the office needs to use this computer.”

She had convenience, but then was surprised when an experienced tech got on her computer without asking her for a password. It was even labeled “password” on the sticky note.

I’m often asked what will assure security on a computer. The answer is simple: Turn it off. Pull all the plugs. But that, of course, would be inconvenient. So just like we want our government to provide good education and social services, but don’t want to pay taxes, we ask for information security, but we don’t want to give up convenience. A secure, hard-to-guess password that is not written down in an accessible location makes your computer secure. In turn, you either have to access it from a secure place, requiring various means of authentication, or you have to remember it. Similarly, Two-factor authentication provides a substantial improvement in security. You ought to have it at least on important accounts, and remember that information in accounts you rate as “unimportant” may help people break into the important ones, such as your bank account.

Which leads me to Facebook and data breaches. The reason Facebook and other social media sites have data that can be shared is that they track us. They do this so that they can make their algorithms work in order to show us information that we want to see. The end purpose is to get our money, but in order to do so, they have to do something we either like, or are so addicted to that we watch even through the annoyance. Similar types of technology allow your navigational software to suggest locations that might interest you, for example. Apps that help you contact friends have to have information about you in order to do so.

And then, of course, we complain. Which is fine, in one sense. I don’t like Facebook’s feed algorithms and have said so a number of times. I’m not complaining as a business owner and advertiser. Content publishers complain frequently, but that’s a similar problem from a different perspective. Social media sites have to satisfy the consumer, or advertising is no good. If, in the process of satisfying the consumer, they require advertisers to change the type of content they post, that’s part of doing business. It would be more convenient (mark that word!) to just put a picture of your product, a slogan, and a price, but the people viewing the feed want something different.

But even though I don’t like Facebook’s feed, I know what the problem is with changing it. I’d be perfectly happy to have every post from every one of my friends and every business I’ve liked fed to me in posting order. I’ll scan and choose. I’ll unlike businesses that bug me with stuff I don’t want to see. I’ll block people who are too annoying. The key here is that I would be happy to take responsibility for my feed content.

But face it, most of you wouldn’t. Just as users install programs and then forget they did, they like companies and friend people, and then forget they did that. One of the reasons spoofed accounts can work on Facebook is that people see a friend request from someone they know (or displaying the same name), they forget they’re already friends and then friend them again. Most people would be offended at the suggestion that they should think about it. It ought to just work!

How much do you pay for your social media accounts? Hmmm! That’s what I thought. Those companies are going to have to make money somewhere, and to do so, they have to let these networks build and they’re going to have to show you content. The social media managers know that if they didn’t do some filtering you’d head off somewhere else because most of you have no idea what businesses you’ve liked and don’t want to be bothered thinking about it. The social media company, on the other hand, has to be very aware of all that.

So you’re convenience, the convenience of seeing content you like without the annoyance of having to think about how it’s filtered, reduces your security. Companies like Cambridge Analytica  can harvest your data and do weird political stuff with it. Note, by the way, that if people were less gullible, fake news just wouldn’t work. If we each took responsibility for testing ideas and checking data, liars would find their lives much more difficult. Just sayin’.

Social media companies, pressured by governments, will continue to work to make us secure in spite of ourselves, and we’ll continue to complain, because honestly we just want everything to work because somebody else made it work for us.

And when it doesn’t, we’ll complain.

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One Comment

  1. Well said – I like to connect with people on FB and share photos. I only somewhat recently learned of the information-harvesting and security loopholes. Through my eldest son’s expertise, I followed the steps to get to my “apps” and unsuscribe from them. Now I’m hearing that friends of mine who have those apps are a conduit to my information – not that I’m political or financial fodder. It bothers me that Google follows me around and advertises things I use its search engine to learn about. Now I wonder if I have to leave Facebook altogether – or if what I’ve done is enough. True, Henry, we want something easy AND secure AND cheap! Good metaphor for other areas of life. (My conundrum not yet solved.)

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