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You Want to Do WHAT With My What??!!!??

Cai opened his Android tablet like he does every day to browse news stories, catch up on the latest gossip on Facebook and chat with friends.  Today, he was required to download and install the new Facebook Messenger app in order to read and respond to Facebook messages.

“No problem.  This won’t take but a few minutes,” Cai mused, having done this many times before.

What he saw next alarmed him.

By installing this app, the message on his screen said, it:

  • “Allows the app to call phone numbers without your intervention.  This may result in unexpected charges or calls.  Malicious apps may cost you money by making calls without your confirmation.
  • “Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera.  This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.
  • “Allows the app to read your phone’s call log, including data about incoming and outgoing calls.  This permission allows apps to save your call log data, and malicious apps may share call log data without your knowledge.
  • “Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed or communicated in other ways with specific individuals.”

“What the what?!” Cai exclaimed as he pushed the cancel button.  “Does Mark Zuckerburg [the founder of Facebook] need to know everything single thing I do in my life?  He’s going to know more than the CIA!”

Cai isn’t alone.  Millions of people vehemently expressed their dissatisfaction all over the Internet at Facebook’s bold request for personal information.

I’ve received a few phone calls and messages from worried users about the risk of installing and using the new, required Facebook Messenger app. 

Here are the important things you need to know to make an informed decision about whether or not to install the app on your devices:

First, you do NOT have to install the Facebook Messenger app if you do not wish to send or receive Facebook chat messages on your phone or other mobile device.  You can still communicate with friends and family using the regular chat feature on your desktop or laptop computer.

However, if you DO want to communicate using a mobile device, Facebook forces you to install the app (and agree to its terms and conditions).

Second, the terms and conditions to which you must agree for the Facebook Messenger app are pretty much the same for every app you install on your mobile devices.  Other examples include Skype and Snapchat.

Sean Lyons, an expert with cyber-safety organization Netsafe advises, “A lot of the language in the terms and conditions seems scary, but I don’t think there is anything sinister going on here.”

I seriously doubt Facebook is scheming to make long distance calls to Russia on your dime or use your camera to take photos while you’re sleeping.

Finally, the problem revolves around the wording of the permission requests, mainly on Android devices.

Facebook issued the following response to the controversy: “Almost all apps need certain permissions to run on Android, and we use these permissions to run features in the app.  Keep in mind that Android controls the way the permissions are named, and the way they’re named doesn’t necessarily reflect the way the Messenger app and other apps use them.”

In essence, Android’s wording of the permission requests makes the threat seem more ominous and intrusive.

Apple iPhone and iPad users have the ability to control what features the app has permission to use.  For example, if you don’t want the app to be able to access your pictures, you can deny it access.

The way Android devices are programmed requires you to give all or nothing access to any app when you download it.  Thus, creating the most uproar among Android mobile users.

What do I recommend?  Make your own determination.

Remember, pretty much everything we say or do electronically is recorded by someone, somewhere, somehow.  Whether it’s Google, Facebook or the NSA, someone out there knows more than you probably want them to.

Keep your conversations on the up-and-up and you’ll have nothing to worry about.  The good book reminds us, “Be sure your sins will find you out.”  Especially in the digital age.

Now excuse me, I need to go install the app on my Nexus tablet.

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Do You REALLY Have Computer Problems?

When Brenda called our office early last week, she reported that every time she booted up her computer several pop-ups warned that her computer had multiple problems needing fixed.  No matter what she did, they prevented her from doing anything on her computer.  And they wouldn’t go away.

A couple days later, Robert called requesting an appointment for us to remove viruses off his computer.  He described his problem almost exactly the same as Brenda.

Scores of clients have brought their computers to us over the past year with these annoying, intrusive programs preventing them from being able to surf the Internet, check email or anything else.

These programs carry names like PC Optimizer Pro, Speed Optimizer Pro, My PC Backup, and Windows Registry Cleaner.

While these programs technically are not viruses, they do exhibit many characteristics of malicious software.  They become deeply rooted into the Windows operating system, hijack your web browsers, and overall just create a major annoyance when using your PC.

The programs, called PUPs (potentially unwanted programs), reportedly scan your computer and discover all kinds of problems – invalid registry entries, junk files, and erroneous system settings.  They offer to fix these problems with the promise that your PC will run better.  The catch is you have to purchase the software.

Unfortunately, I have seen many instances where allowing these programs to “fix” the problems it finds actually creates more serious problems – usually requiring professional repair.

These programs also tend to act like a magnet, attracting other malicious software to become installed on your computer.  Every computer I have examined containing Optimizer Pro-type software has had numerous other similar programs causing pop-ups and other “error” messages.

Most of our clients are unaware of how these programs got installed on their computers.  Typically, they are bundled in the installers for other free software – like free video recording or streaming software, PDF creators and download managers.  It can also be included in custom installers from reputable download websites.

This is why it is very IMPORTANT to pay close attention when installing software.  Read every screen and look at all the options that are automatically check-marked.  Most software installers allow you to choose what you want to install.

Using the custom install option is always the safest.  This allows you to deselect anything that you’re not sure about, especially unwanted software.

Most importantly, never install software that you don’t trust.  When in doubt, don’t.