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Trustworthy Sites Are Worth A Mint

Trustworthy Sites Are Worth A Mint

Mint\'s login screen

    The internet is full of lies. Without plenty of effort, you can’t even prove my name is Thursday Bram. So why should you hand over your bank account numbers, passwords and other financial data to me?

    That’s essentially what Mint and other money management sites are asking you to do. These companies have many benefits for those of us focused on productivity and, for some of us, those benefits have outweighed our healthy senses of paranoia. I’m not saying that money management companies are all out to get us (and some of them are actually very good), but it’s worth taking a very close look at what sites you trust.

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    I realize it may not seem fair to be so suspicious — after all, these sites never did anything to me. But pretty much everything on the internet is a matter of trust. Consider Mint’s “Privacy & Security” page: in 20 minutes I could have an identical page up on my site. Merely posting a page isn’t enough to win my trust — although the information Mint has posted is very convincing.

    What is enough to win my trust?

    I think a video of Bruce Schneier pronouncing a site’s trustworthiness would be enough to convince me — but only because I already trust Schneier as an expert on security.

    Beyond that, it’s a matter of finding some very specific facts that will help me to decide on whether to trust a given site.

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    Where is a company based?

    Most folks running websites have the best of intentions. The country they’ve set up their servers in, though, can have some extensive effects on who gets to see your information simply by asking. In the U.S., there are certain laws meant to prevent companies from passing around your private information. But in more controlled societies — think China — certain government officials can access secure information with no intermediary steps.

    Knowing location is also important in case something goes wrong. I know I’d rather use a money management site based in my own country in the event that they did distribute it to someone with nefarious plans. At least, in that case, I could take the company to court.

    What does the privacy policy say — and is it enforceable?

    Who reads all those user agreements and terms of use anyhow? Isn’t that just a box to click through so you can start playing with the nice shiny web application? Mint devoted a major chunk of its terms of use to discussing a comprehensive privacy policy.

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    Reading this policy is a fairly good indicator of Mint’s trustworthiness — and therefore its success as a money management application. The key is the inclusion of a way to address security issues through a third party organization with a reputation for trustworthiness. It’s easy to scoff at using such third party organizations, and listing links to their sites on your own, but those seals are actually a good indicator, if you can confirm that they are correctly displayed.

    Mint’s partnership with TRUSTe is a great example. TRUSTe has been around since 1997 and was founded by, among others, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. That sort of history and such well-known associates make for a good indicator of trust.

    What are other people saying about the company in question?

    Beyond fancy logos, though, a real indicator of whether a website is worth trusting is the buzz around the web. Just Googling a site’s name can get you a whole load of information, though you might consider adding words like ‘security’ in your search. A surprising number of people don’t do even this basic level of research before handing over details like the password to their email — I can name a half dozen social networking sites that ask for exactly that in order to import your contacts. It’s nice that we have such an environment of trust online, but we’re just asking for problems when we give away such information willy-nilly.

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    Such due diligence can be enough to warn you off of releasing your information, though. At the very least, it can give you a head’s up of security issues that might make you want to wait before signing up for a service.

    Unfortunately, buzz doesn’t always help early adopters. If you’re always the first person into the private beta, you may not have heard about any bugs or problems that a company has experienced, let alone if other people have some questions about trust.

    How much time should I spend on research?

    I don’t necessarily delve into the technical security specs of every site I sign up for, and I wouldn’t even argue that there is a need to. But before handing over information like your bank account numbers — or the password to the email account where you’ve saved those numbers — it’s worth spending 15 or 30 minutes to make sure that your sensitive information isn’t going to take a walk after you’ve entered it.

    After this sort of review, Mint has all the elements of a reliable site. They’re able to earn trust, rather than rely on people looking for a quick fix and ignoring a few warning signs. Yes, Mint solves some significant productivity and money management questions, but it does so in such a way as to reassure users.

    I do still have a few concerns, of course. Any site known to save financial information on numerous people is going to be a target of all sorts of malicious attacks. And no site is going to take users on a walk through of the exact protections and vulnerabilities of their system. Aaron Patzer, Mint’s CEO, has discussed the site’s security on several occasions, and in general, it seems like information submitted to the site is fairly secure. I’m willing to roll the dice and take a chance on Mint — especially since none of the early adopters have gotten burned yet.

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    Last Updated on November 5, 2019

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

    “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

    But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

    Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

    1. Always Have a Book

    It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

    Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

    2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

    We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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    Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

    3. Get More Intellectual Friends

    Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

    Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

    4. Guided Thinking

    Albert Einstein once said,

    “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

    Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

    5. Put it Into Practice

    Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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    If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

    In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

    6. Teach Others

    You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

    Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

    7. Clean Your Input

    Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

    I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

    Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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    8. Learn in Groups

    Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

    Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

    9. Unlearn Assumptions

    You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

    Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

    Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

    10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

    Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

    Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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    11. Start a Project

    Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

    If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

    12. Follow Your Intuition

    Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

    Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

    13. The Morning Fifteen

    Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

    If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

    14. Reap the Rewards

    Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

    15. Make Learning a Priority

    Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

    More About Continuous Learning

    Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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