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Analyzing your Internet Privacy

by Staff Writer on April 26, 2013

It’s a Jungle out There


The Internet has made so many of our daily functions faster and more efficient, but with new technologies come unforeseen challenges and risks. For instance, who could forget those Nigerian email scams? First, the victim receives email messages from a stranger asking for help in transferring a large amount of money. The charming man in Nigeria promises you’ll receive a large lump sum for your help, and instead, once he’s gained access to your bank accounts or tricked you into wiring him money, he takes off with your funds. You’ve just been the victim of an Internet phishing scam.

You might be thinking, “I would never fall for something like that!” By now, most of us know better than to give away our information so freely to an unknown third party, but this is just one of the many ways that the digital age has made us vulnerable to breaches in privacy. As the technology evolves, so do the sophisticated ways in which marketers, identity thieves, and other criminals mine your personal information. One danger of the digital age is that technology often moves faster than the law, which can make it harder for victims to prosecute the guilty parties or recover what’s been lost. That’s why it’s important to prevent breaches before they begin.

Internet privacy is nothing to lose your head over. When it comes to these modern conveniences — email, social networking, online banking and so on — a little information goes a long way. Taking the time to learn about the issues and practice good Internet habits can make all the difference.

How We Interact With the Web

Here’s a brief survey of the various Internet activities that most of us engage in on the daily, how they can sometimes make us sitting ducks, and a few good precautions we can take to make us safer.

Email

Email allows us to send information across vast distances at lightning fast speed, but with this great power comes the need for a little discretion. It’s important to always keep in mind who (besides the intended recipient) might have access to the transaction. If you’re participating in an Internet listserv, then your email address is visible to hundreds of eyes and you’re much more vulnerable to spam. Once sent, your email can be forwarded to anyone, so it’s important to know and trust whomever you send sensitive information. Emails on your server at work are accessible by your employers. Your Internet service provider also has the right to access your email if they suspect a crime has been committed.

  • Only share sensitive information with trusted recipients
  • Use discretion when using your work email
  • Never click on suspicious links, either from strangers or people you know. If your friend has been hacked, their account may be sending out sketchy emails without their knowledge

Social Networking

Popular sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and countless others invite us to share our photos, thoughts, and links. But so often, your friends and family aren’t the only ones privy to the information you’re sharing. Advertisers and third-party marketers keep tabs on your movements in order to collect consumer information and tailor their marketing specifically to you. Privacy settings on these sites often change without notifying you, meaning that posts you assumed were private might in fact be very public.

  • Keep up-to-date with your privacy settings. This Life Hacker link provides an always up-to-date guide on keeping your Facebook privacy settings current.
  • Be wary of downloading third-party applications: much of the information you share with these apps are not protected by the parent website.
  • Be smart about the information you post on these sites. Employers increasingly use Facebook and other sites as a tool to monitor their employees or potential employees. Compliance Building provides information on the social media policies of various businesses.

Search Engines

Whenever you visit a search engine, such as Google, Yahoo! or Bing, the site records your IP address, whatever search terms you used, time of the search, and other information. Search engines claim to do this in order to provide better services and increase security. These websites vary in how long they store your personal information. Yahoo! stores your information for 18 months, for instance, while Bing and Google store the same data for six and nine months, respectively.

  • Avoid downloading web toolbars that excessively track your web browsing habits for marketing purposes.
  • Some experts recommend using separate providers for your search engines and email addresses, as companies increasingly link this information. For example, use Google for email and Bing for searching.

Online Banking

Reputable online banks will have a series of firewalls and other security measures in place to protect your password, money and sensitive information. Still, with so much money on the line it’s important to practice basic precautions.

  • Use a unique password for your banking; if your email is compromised, for example, identity thieves won’t have easy access to your money as well.
  • Don’t log in to your bank account on public computers where you might leave behind cookies, or on public Wi-Fi hot spots that might be more vulnerable to hacking.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing refers to any activity done on the Internet in which you access someone else’s server. Some of the most common examples of this are: Internet email, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Apple iCloud. The danger here is that you’re putting your secure information into someone else’s hands. The World Privacy Forum gives information on what cloud computing is and provides tips on how to keep yourself safe.

More Plans for Action

Now that you’re aware of all the issues, here are a few more miscellaneous things to consider when it comes to managing your Internet privacy.

Be Smart, Be Safe, Have Fun

Remember, the Internet isn’t an inherently dangerous place — but it pays to be cognizant of what you’re putting out there for the world to see. If you use common sense and remember to continually educate yourself on the changing landscape, then your efforts will go a long way toward ensuring your Internet privacy.

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