Many spam/scam problems might be avoided if people adopted a more prophylactic approach to online connections. I learned this lesson more than fifteen years ago when a free app offered to keep my computer clock updated and in exchange the application loaded tons of adware onto my machine.

I love advertising. At various times I have been an advertiser, created ads and have sold advertising. Because of that I am hesitant to give it away for free. I don’t wear logoed outerwear or put bumper stickers or branded license plate frames on my vehicle. If you want me to advertise for you we can discuss a price. I am fundamentally opposed to someone else making a fortune off of my information while offering little or no compensation.

Forms of social media interactions can vary from a family reunion to something more closely related to a singles bar. There are friends, business associates and loved ones that value and respect the connections; there are also many nefarious characters looking for an opportunity to sell questionable products, to steal personal data and gain access to confidential and financial resources.

Here are a few of my tips that might be useful in sorting them out:

On social network sites, emails and etc. be very cautious and/or suspicious of links to off-site pages. It is easier to explain to a friend why you did not click than to try and clean up an infected computer.

You may want to forget about racking up a huge friends tally to have a more pleasant and rewarding experience by associating with people you really know. Also by doing that, you may be able to tell if a post is oddly worded for a particular person; which is the first alarm for detecting problem links.

Before you sign up for an application check their privacy policy… in detail. Here is a line I found in a recent app request’s privacy policy: You consent to have your information shared with service providers and to be contacted by them by telephone or email, even if you have previously listed yourself on any corporate, state, or federal “do not call” list.

Most Facebook apps require you to grant access to your profile information and the information of your friends. If you have made your information accessible only to friends, this may give third-party sources and end-run around that setting. So you are not just giving up your own privacy, but also the privacy of your connections. You can throw caution to the wind in exchange for a wild thrill ride, but betraying your friend’s privacy may mean losing some or most of them when they find out.

The bottom line is that treating the internet as a watering hole and using the same judgment as when you are deciding who to bring home may have similar results.

Update from a Facebook note 04/14/11

Please be very careful. I have seen several friends with a photo album and links about “Hidden Truth” or “My Top 10 Stalkers”. I don’t know anything about rhose specific posts, except that something seems to smell bad. This is the type of subject line and websites used to spread malware. This one has tagged people as in a group photo, so it looks like it is coming from someone you know. Unless you know and trust the web site, don’t click on the link.

Please practice safe computing; what you might catch is easily spread to others.