“Tomorrow, Facebook will change its privacy settings to allow Mark Zuckerberg to come to your house while you sleep and eat your brains with a grapefruit spoon. To stop this from happening, go to Account/Home Invasion Settings/ Cannibalism/Brains and uncheck the “tasty” box. Please copy and re-post. It will save lives.”
This bit of whimsy made its way around Facebook the other day, poking fun at a real hoax that appeared on the social network at about the same time.
That hoax went something like this:
“As of September 27th , 2015 at 2:24pm Pacific standard time, I do not give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, or posts, both past and future. By this statement, I give notice to Facebook it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on this profile and/or its contents. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of privacy can be punished by law (UCC 1-308- 1 1 308-103 and the Rome Statute). NOTE: Facebook is now a public entity. All members must post a note like this. If you prefer, you can copy and paste this version. If you do not publish a statement at least once it will be tactically allowing the use of your photos, as well as the information contained in the profile status updates. DO NOT SHARE. You MUST copy and paste."
Or a variation that read:
“Now it's official! It has been published in the media. Facebook has just released the entry price: $5.99 to keep the subscription of your status to be set to 'private.' If you paste this message on your page, it will be offered free (paste not share) if not tomorrow, all your posts can become public. Even the messages that have been deleted or the photos not allowed. After all, it does not cost anything for a simple copy and paste."
None of which was true.
That’s because Facebook doesn’t claim copyright rights to the personal information, photographs, and other material that their users post. It can share it but not own it.
Brad Shear, a Washington-area attorney and blogger who is an expert on social media, told USA Today that the message was "misleading and not true."
As far as a privacy charge, Snopes, the myth-busting site, said “the claim that Facebook would be initiating user charges was but the bait to lure people to [a] protest page and its hidden malicious payload…"
So why did a number of my well educated and well-meaning friends, along with untold thousands of others, buy into this?
Are they unsophisticated rubes who fall for any and all Internet scams that pop up on their screen?
Hardly. A more likely scenario is that they understand that Internet firms like Facebook, Google and Netflix among others have in the past been accused of violating their users’ privacy.
Indeed, Facebook was hit with a class action lawsuit for allegedly violating its members' right to privacy. The suit claimed that the company intercepts private messages, without consent, to mine the data for its own profit.
All of which is taking place against the backdrop of a government that has been spying on its own citizens.
So, yes, there is a good reason why many may be quick to embrace some sort of protection, a shield, a talisman to protect us from electronic evil, no matter how misdirected that effort might be.
After all, we have every reason to worry.
Additionally, unless you’re a spy, a pedophile, an axe murderer or a regular on the Ashley Madison web site, when we talk about privacy we’re really taking about identity and credit theft.
And that's no hoax:
--- An investigation by MSNBC revealed that a hacker posted tens of thousands of stolen credit card numbers on a Web site; he offered to share more for $1 apiece.
--- That investigation also revealed that existence of dozens of Internet Relay Chat rooms where stolen personal profiles - names, addresses, phone numbers, and credit card numbers - are bought, sold and traded out in the open.
--- A California couple began tapping into a neighbor’s wireless Internet router. This led to them raiding the neighbors’ personal data. Thirty victims were affected ultimately by the time the pair was arrested.
--- A busboy using a library computer attempted to steal the identities of 217 of the wealthiest Americans - including Oprah Winfrey, Michael Bloomberg and Steven Spielberg. If successful - and he was almost successful - his haul would have been in the neighborhood of $80 million.
--- A Russian website called Carder.su trafficking in stolen and fake credit cards was believed to be responsible for around $50 million in losses around the globe.
--- The Treasury Department was drained of an estimated $5.8 billion in tax refunds by identity thieves filing fraudulent returns during the 2013 tax-filing season.
Time may not heal this wound. An expert quoted in a Pew report on the future of the Internet had this to say: “Human nature isn’t changing; there’s laziness, bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography, dirty tricks, crime, and those who practice them will have new capacity to make life miserable for others.”
This Facebook hoax was benign as these sorts of scams go. The worse thing that could happen is that by believing it, you would throw caution to the wind when posting on Facebook.
We should be skeptical about any unattributed material we run across on Internet. If it has not been reported by a major media outlet, chances are it's baloney.
It's easy to get entangled on the Web.
Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector 1.