To be clear from the outset, I simply adore social media and the internet – I devour it; but the jewels in their crowns are scams, lies and pitfalls to unsuspecting souls.
A huge consequence was laid bare (pardon the pun) for all to see recently, as an unnamed teenager from an unnamed school in the North of England suffered a double whammy of shame and embarrassment.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that the naked picture he took of himself has been mercilessly and widely distributed amongst his contemporaries (courtesy of the teenage girl he was ‘flirting’ with), he now discovers that he has an intelligence marker on his police file for distributing indecent images of children!
That the law is a pain with regards to this poor lad is an aside to this article; yet it is worth noting that had he been over the age of 18, the said temptress would have been prosecuted for ‘revenge porn’. This law does not apply to minors, however.
Even though the picture was of himself – and noting that he does NOT have a criminal record – being under the age of 18 means that he now, perversely, has this marker for life.
Moreover, it is yet to be determined whether those who had a good laugh at his expense will also have similar markers applied to their files. Maybe not so funny after all.
The effect of this marker (aside from humiliation) is that should he ever wish to work with children or vulnerable adults, it is doubtful that he will ever pass an enhanced CRB check; and will ultimately be prevented from doing so.
So what made him take such a gamble? Perhaps it was a false sense of security derived from the machinations of Snapchat. Photos you send via this app disappear automatically after 10 seconds, right? WRONG!
Teenagers found out eons ago that all you have to do is take a screen shot from your smart phone – eh voilà! Oh, and that 10-seconds thing only applies if you take the photo actually using the app; photos uploaded from your smart phone and subsequently sent through the app can be retained more or less permanently.
Snapchat aside, other platforms are plagued with deceits, lies and ‘scams’ from those with less morals than our own. Take Facebook as an example – how many times have you seen that one of your friends has ‘liked’ a seemingly innocent photograph or post on Facebook? Too many to mention no doubt – but take a look at who has posted it originally.
You’ll often find that extreme groups are using this as a ploy to increase their awareness and you may find that you have unwittingly appeared to endorse their activity.
Under their updated terms of reference; by continuing to use Facebook you accept that any photos that you upload can be used by them for any marketing material as they see fit; and without contacting you. But you already knew that though, I’m sure.
And then there’s ‘Facebook for grownups’ (aka LinkedIn). Even this vestibule of professional networking is not immune from deceits.
I am amazed at how many of my connections will readily submit answers to ‘puzzles that only geniuses can answer’. Yeah, right – you know the ones – ‘Bet you can’t name a country with letters in it’. They do wonder why they seem to get an increased amount of spam soon after. Where DID it come from?
And the social media article to top all lies appeared this week – ‘Harry Styles single-handedly ruined Sea World’. #sigh – if only One Direction could sign off with something worthwhile.
Social media and related apps are free to the end user; but take a moment to consider how they make their millions aside from promotion and advertising revenue.
They sell data – YOUR data; and I’ll offer a word of caution to iPhone users (I don’t know whether there is anything similar on android phones). Go to and scroll down to – you may wish to turn on .
But it gets a little worse; go to <Settings> <Locations> and scroll down to <System Services>. Once you’re there, click on <Frequent Locations> – your history will show you EXACTLY where you’ve been, EXACTLY what times you were there and for how long. Hell – it even gives you a map! Don’t believe where your teenage kids say they have been? #justsaying.
My final tip is with regard to eCommerce, and in particular products whose prices fluctuate according to demand.
This is all to do with ‘cookies’ (sadly not the double chocolate tip type) and their value to a vendor.
Now, forgive my lack of geek-speaking prowess here, but cookies are useful to us as end-users, as – amongst other roles – they facilitate more rapid reloads of websites that we often visit, and allow us to maintain a browsing history. To the vendor they support web analytics of visitors to their site et al.
The intelligence they derive from your registered visit means that the website software ‘knows’ what products you’ve been looking at; and more importantly that you’ve come back.
Taking holiday flights as an example – you check a flight time and price and don’t book it just yet for whatever reason. When you go back later, you are dismayed to see that the price is now higher. Oh no! Get it booked! Quick – before it goes up again! Maybe – but not just yet.
Often, the cost hasn’t actually increased. Before you book, try this. Open a ‘private browsing session’ (an Incognito Window on Google Chrome for example – by right-clicking the icon) and navigate to the same website.
Private browsing sessions aren’t for ‘certain websites that you wouldn’t normally admit to visiting’, they are a means of visiting a site without sharing your details with the host; and their software ‘sees you’ as a first-time visitor.
You may just be pleasantly surprised how cheap that flight booking really is.
Enjoy social media and the internet – but think twice about how you shop, what you’re sharing and how.
Anything I’ve missed? Why not share your tips and tricks for everyone else in the comments section below?
Matt is a columnist and author on all things freelance, engineering and consultancy – with rants and thought-provoking observations thrown in for good measure. He also runs a freelance consultancy in Lincoln; fulfilling his lifelong ambition to be his own boss after 16 years serving in both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. His consultancy attracts and employs high quality engineers alongside the finest defence and business professionals. Matt is a Chartered Engineer, and avid reader and huge football fan.