How to avoid the 'cyberazzi'

By Edouard Thijssen

The paparazzi, with their clicking cameras, are notorious for stalking celebrities to feed the public’s curiosity about Hollywood stars. The reality of modern society is that you, too, have stalkers following your every move, even if you’re not a celebrity. They’re known as the “cyberazzi.”

As a generation addicted to the Internet, little do we realize the quantity of information we reveal to a faceless audience online. Each interaction with a website requires an e-mail address, a username and a password. Sometimes you must also disclose your geographic location, professional interests and salary range. Once you receive access to the site, you may be revealing information on your reading preferences, your favorite brand of toothpaste, your recent travel destination and your trading strategies.

You are not living one consolidated online life but re-creating your profile each time you log on to a different website. Your Google identity differs from your LinkedIn identity, which differs from your Facebook profile. Managing your online life requires enormous quantities of data. And at the moment, you have no assurance that this data will be treated with care.

For people who come from wealthy backgrounds, creating an online life presents a higher level of risk. Having said that, the sad truth is that a lot of high-net-worth individuals with fortunes and family businesses at stake seem to be missing out on the wonderfully connected world of social media. This is partly because using social media requires you to drop your barriers, reveal information and create an online identity that could possibly attract the wrong sort of attention.

What do you need to be worried about?

Business models: It may not seem relevant, but understanding a business model is crucial to protecting your identity. When you set up an account online, the way the website makes its money—whether through a fee you pay or purely through advertising revenue—has ramifications that affect your security. For those that don’t depend on a subscription fee, their raison d’être is to attempt to understand you as a person. Why? To build a profile of your preferences, your buying patterns—your every move—so products can be tailored to fit your Internet patterns. Suddenly before you know it, you start seeing adverts and search results only for baby clothing and car accessories!

Talking websites: You may not realize it, but websites talk to each other, without your permission. For example, say you type in a search for “Adventure Holidays” on Google. The search engine throws up a list of search results, and you choose Link No. 3 because it looks interesting. What do you know, Google is talking to Link No. 3 about your choice. Google and Link No. 3 are incentivized to have a close relationship because Google makes money from Link No. 3, and Link No. 3’s client acquisition is dependent on its relationship with Google. You are being followed online.

Phishing: This term refers to attempts to acquire personal information by posing as a trusted source. Hackers target unsuspecting users by tempting them to click on links, open e-mails and access websites that in turn ask them to enter a password, credit card number or Social Security number.

A quick glance at the risks highlighted above reveals that these are rather generic risks presented by the Internet itself. All users, irrespective of their status or background, should take care while browsing.

It is fair to say that social media present a higher level of risk because the networking philosophy thrives on high levels of personal information. In order to build a social network and expand your universe of contacts, you must disclose your preferences, marital status, location, job designation and other details. For affluent people, this is hardly the route of choice, given how carefully one must guard information on the family or the family business.

So the online world appears to be a scary place full of monsters ready to gobble up personal data, digest the information and re-create your personality to be sold to marketers online. How do you arm yourself with the right protection? How can you safely enter into the world of social media?

Trends and patterns in data protection

The world is starting to become aware of Big Brothers like Google and the 1984-style level of observation. There is a rising trend toward offering consumers a greater degree of control over the use of data. Consumers will be able to choose how much data they wish to share and will have the choice to receive solicitations only from offer providers they approve and only those they want to hear from. Marketeers will have to reach consumers on their terms.

A second trend is that data are starting to acquire the status of currency. Therefore, the treatment of data is starting to take forms that we recognize in the offline world—data vaults, data banks, personal data lockers that act as information repositories—all designed with bank-level infrastructure and security.

As in the offline world, there is an increasing trend to use an agent to represent personalities online. For example, affluent purchasers use agents at art auctions who come equipped with a strict list of requirements and behave in a way that will not reveal the identity of the person backing the agent.

At TrustedFamily, we recognize this last trend and are taking concrete steps in this direction. “We are privileged to have some of the world’s largest, most respectable families as clients who use our communications platform specifically because it offers the required level of security. However, at the moment, they are limited to intrafamily interaction online,” says our CEO, Joachim Vandaele. “In the future, we intend to act as their online agents, acting through a secure portal while offering them a window to the online world—a gateway that does not compromise your privacy but at the same time allows you to access a range of offers and networking opportunities.” This will offer partners the opportunity to advertise services while giving the consumer full control over how much personal data is revealed. The age of inverse marketing has arrived.

Enjoy social networking, with caution

If this piece hasn’t terrified you of the Internet and you are keen on exploring a rather fascinating world online, then it is important to recognize the lurking dangers of sharing your personal information. Yet there are ways to prevent security breaches by being sensible.

And finally, here is my last word on the subject—don’t for a moment believe that you can ignore social networking. It is becoming an ever-present reality, and a valuable strategy, in the world of business.

With the next generation hooked onto its benefits, it is important to navigate your way in and find your space in the world of social media.

Edouard Thijssen is the co-founder of TrustedFamily, a highly secure social collaboration platform, used primarily by large business families across the world to aid effective communication among family members. He is also a fifth-generation member of the Aliaxis family (







Copyright 2012 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permssion from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

Article categories: 
Print / Download
May/June 2012

Other Related Articles

  • COVID-19 raises cybersecurity issues for family offices

    The move to working from home revealed vulnerability to phishing among family offices that had not set up proper controls for remote access.As family offices scrambled to respond quickly to the health...

  • Safety precautions for home and business

    As a child in Guatemala, Rodolfo Paiz got a ride to and from school each day—from a bodyguard. His family, owners of a prosperous grocery chain, instituted the security measure around 1978, after a ...