10 things Gen Y do online.. and shouldn't.

Ten things that young people do online.. and how they really should know better.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

The Generation Y. A generation that has grown up with the buzz of ringtones in their ears, eyes glued to various screens and computer monitors, and have no doubt on more than one occasion shoved a parent aside on the computer because they were 'too slow'.

Yet, there are a number of things that this generation should know not to do, and it still happens -- from falling for a phishing scam to trusting self-generated company product reviews.

What are ten common mistakes we make online?

1. Assume our online activity is anonymous

Whether it is posting a comment on an article, or running a search for a product, your online activity is stored. Upload a video or image, and it is likely to surface at some point on a search engine. One reason why Facebook's new Timeline feature caused issues was the sudden pouring out of closet skeletons -- old posts, comments, likes and event attendance became suddenly accessible to anyone linked to your Facebook account, much to many a young user's embarrassment.

In relation to posting online, whether it is an 'anonymous' blog or commentary on news articles, there has been cases of online users being tracked down and occasionally issued court orders after malicious or illegal activity.

We aren't anonymous. We can try and hide ourselves, and this is possible to an extent -- but our 'real' and digital lives are becoming more closely merged.

2. Believe that social networks are an extension of talking

Consider the recent and harsh example of two teenagers refused entry to the U.S. after one tweeted to his friend that he was going to "destroy America". The conclusion? Both were refused entry to the country and sent packing back to Birmingham.

Governmental bodies are becoming more and more interested in what we're posting on Facebook or tweeting about, so a sensible option is to remember that something you say jokingly to someone else face-to-face can be taken out of context and used against you if stated online.

3. We undervalue our personal data

Much of the web appears free, however, you are trading something very valuable in return for 'free' services.

Personal data.

Your personal information can become a goldmine for businesses, who then target advertising based on your preferences, location, and search history. The more relevant an advert, the more likely you are to be interested, increase their click-through rates and perhaps purchase an item or service -- the basic premise that underlies much of Internet advertising.

It may not be reason enough to stop using Facebook or Google's services, but it is worth keeping an eye on changes in privacy terms, and perhaps even occasionally read the small print that we generally scroll through and ignore.

4. Engage in combat with trolls

A dangerous pastime. The moment you engage with a set of particularly pernicious trolls, you become swept away by a river of irritating, personal and pointless discourse. As tempting as it may be, ignore the snide and personal comments, and avoid the usual anger-filled debate.

Trolls generally have nothing better to do with their time than provoke negative reactions by people they don't know, and if they know they have had an impact on you, it will only get worse. Stay away and save your time for something more constructive.

5. Leave private information in web browsers

For the sake of convenience, we often make our browsers remember passwords, search history and account details. For public computers, this can be an absolute disaster, far more so than someone writing embarrassing status updates through your Facebook account.

On personal computers, keep in mind that if you let someone borrow it for innocuous tasks like checking their email, there may be personal information that can be inadvertently viewed which could lead to embarrassment or a demand for explanation.

6. Copy and paste without references

You're not in kindergarten anymore. You can't get away with copy and pasting work that you like the look of and using it to demonstrate your own point, whether on a poster or in a dissertation. Citation, especially due to the sheer amount of data available online, is a must. There's nothing wrong with analyzing and discussing a point that belongs to someone else -- just make sure that you reference correctly.

See also: The student's guide to Creative Commons and Fair Use.

7. Believe every product review we read

Reviews for the latest beauty product or addition to your hardware collection may not be consumer-based. It is a common practice for businesses to 'self review' for promotion purposes -- or employ individuals to give their products positive reviews through websites such as Amazon or personal blogs. It is worth doing additional research online before you commit to buying.

8. Fall for phishing scams

An ever-increasing number of scams are evolving online -- from malware, keyloggers, or information harvesters, to websites designed for phishing purposes. Yet, we still fall for such scams time after time. As schemes designed to steal your personal information become more sophisticated, even to the point where opening an email could be risky, staying safe online can be more difficult.

If you receive an email worm or virus, chances are its from someone you know who has an infected computer. To try and limit the risk of digital communication, do not open any .exe attachments, and if the email isn't necessary -- delete it.

Anything financial, for example from a bank or a loans company, do yourself a favour and ring them before panicking that your 'account has been suspended' or 'you need to update your details'.

9. Don't backup data

Online storage systems go down all the time, may be at risk of security breaches, or as in the recent case of Megaupload, be seized by authorities. Don't think 'I'll do it tomorrow' -- do it now.

If you are working on a dissertation, don't just keep a copy on your computer. The day before it is due, your device may decide it wants to blue-screen you, and the computer store has just shut for the day. Keep backups of your backups -- on your computer, on a USB drive, a copy of your dissertation notes in the freezer if you have to. Just make sure that if something happens, all is not lost -- in terms of data and your degree.

10. Stick with the same simple, old passwords

Something which is easy to remember is something that is also easy to crack. Keep passwords varied, and try to change them at least once a year. It is also good practice to avoid 'Qwerty' based patterns such as '12345', and to mix capital and lower-case letters. If possible, substitute letters for numbers to add an additional layer of security to your accounts.

See also: Passwords to become fossils by 2017?


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