Unless your name is Kapil Sibal, I think you’ll agree with me when I say that the internet is awesome. It is a place where even the most degenerate, depraved and desperate souls on the planet can find sanctuary. But enough about Orkut.
And just like the real world, the internet isn’t safe from scams. In fact, it’s worse, because we’re more used to fraud in the real world. The signs are obvious. For example, you know you’re being suckered when you’re paying ‘chanda‘ for festivals, or voting for the Congress.
I was reminded of all this recently when this paper carried a four-part campaign on online safety. I like how such campaigns begin with cautionary tales that go something like this:
Priya Rai (name changed on request), aged 24, was just an ordinary girl going about her day when she signed into her Facebook account. She was browsing through her albums, creatively titled ‘RANDOM CLICKZ’, ‘PARTYYY!!! LOLZZ!!’ and ‘AFTER PARTYYY VOMIT! YAY!’, when she realised that something was terribly wrong. This was because a truck had rammed into her stupid face. This happens when you check FB while driving.
It surprises me that even after all these years, people are still clueless about basic online safety. Then again, if you’ve seen kids or old people use the web, you’d understand why. For example, my mother is a very smart woman, but I think she believes that the internet is run by a magic goblin network. (I had to explain to her that it’s actually operated by Chinese kids living inside your computer.) Thankfully, here’s a set of FAQs that might just help:
Q. I am on Facebook. How do I protect my privacy?
A. First, delete your account. Then fly to California, lobotomise Mark Zuckerberg and feed his brain to Myspace users.
Q. I’ve put up my phone number online. I also like to check in to various places using Foursquare, thus broadcasting my location details all day. Is this safe?
A. If by safe, you mean ‘something that attracts emotionally-unhinged heavy-breathing enthusiasts with easy access to mineral acids’ then yes.
Q. I am a mother of two teenagers. I sent them friend requests on Facebook six months ago, and they still haven’t accepted it. What do I do?
A. This is not your kids’ fault. The BMC accidentally hit some transmission cables while digging, so your friend requests leaked out and could not reach your kids’ computers. They’re currently lying in a pothole in Marol.
Q. I have an e-mail which says that I just won 750,000 British pounds in a lottery. I just need to send them my bank details. How do I proceed?
A. The recommended procedure is that you march up to your boss, spit in his face and staple your resignation letter to his nipples.
Q. I am a 15-year-old boy. My friends in school morphed my face on to Poonam Pandey’s body. Everyone makes fun of me now. What do I do?
A. This is known as cyber-bullying and can be quite traumatic. But you know what’s more traumatic? Being stabbed with a compass wielded by your oversized classmate who started shaving in the fifth standard. You kids have it easy. Suck it up and get back at bullies with better Photoshop.
Q. I’ve heard of cyber cafes installing keyloggers on their PCs. What’s that about?
A. A keylogger is software that stays invisible while recording whatever you type. The information thus gained can be used for malicious purposes. For example, do you really want everyone to know that your last search term was “balloon fetish”?
Q. Haha. Shut up. Surely there’s no such thing.
A. Look it up if you want your childhood destroyed.
Q. Dear Friend, you should try our herbal penis enlargement pills today.
A. I’m sorry, I don’t know what a ‘herbal penis’ is.
Q. Can I buy three packets of those pills please?
A. Oh hello, Mr. Sib – (THE REST OF THIS COLUMN HAS BEEN CENSORED BY THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA)
(Note: This is my HT column dated 3rd June 2012. Originally posted here.)