When you talk to people about online privacy – most of the time, they fall into three different camps: 1) the “I don’t really care – I have nothing to hide” – 2) the “Oh really, I didn’t know” – 3) and the “I know, I use a vpn, proxy servers and privacy mode on Firefox.” My main concern is the people that fall into the 2nd group because, like most anything, if you don’t know….you usually don’t care.
Online Privacy: The term is very broad and includes issues concerning your private personal information, browser history, surfing habits, purchases, digital footprint and much much more. Now, if someone was to ask you for your personal information (full name, age,sex,address,etc) in real life (in person), you might not be so inclined to just hand it over – but what if it’s being taken online, without your direct knowledge? Would this bother you?
Tools: A small startup called Disconnect has started making browser extensions that help you visualize how your information is being shared across the web and provides tools to block their intrusion into your life. Below, you can see how many sites were tracking and sharing my personal information after 20 minutes and after 12 hours – using the chrome browser extension: Collusion.
After 20 Minutes of Surfing The Web
After 12 Hours of Surfing The Web
The How & Why: Essentially, as soon as you open a web page in your favorite browser, your information (personal, public, browser, etc) is being shared and collected by social media sites (Facebook/Google Plus) – advertising companies – analytics companies – websites you have previously been to and on and on. The real question soon begins to be: Who isn’t tracking me on the internet? So, how is this happening? Well, popular websites like Facebook and Google Plus track you because you’re almost always logged into them and with the help of cookies, they can track/collect your info from across the web. Other websites that you don’t log into, just use your browsers cookies to track you – in turn, they share your info with other websites and so on. The core foundation of the web (inter-connectivity) makes finding, tracking, and collecting your information extremely easy.
What Can You Do: Well, first and formost – you need to be aware of what is happening and how. Almost always, when you sigh up to a service like Facebook or pretty much any website that you’re giving personal data to – you have to understand that they are going to collect/share/sell/aggregate your personal info. What a website or online company is going to do with your personal information, is all in the 30+ page EULA (User License Agreement) that most people click right through, when signing up for a service. You need to understand that when you don’t read the EULA but click on “Accept Terms” you’re agreeing to hand over your info – done deal.
But there’s hope. Start-ups like Disconnect.me are providing tools that help in blocking websites from tracking and collecting your personal info. Go to Disconnect’s website and install the chrome or firefox extension – simply to see which sites are tracking you. From there, you can install extensions that will prevent Facebook, Google and Twitter from tracking/collecting your info. Alternatively, you can see this article from LifeHacker that lists some really great ways to block sites from tracking you.
Regardless of how you feel about online privacy, you won’t be fully aware of its implications until if effects you directly – which at that point, it too late. Like almost all things on the web, the best solution is a proactive approach to your own privacy.