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The Top 5 Things You Should Know About Internet Privacy

Online privacy

Top 5 Things You Should Know About Internet PrivacyThe following blog post was written by our friends at TechBoomers.com, a free educational website that teaches older adults and others with limited computer skills how to use popular websites and apps on the internet. TechBoomers.com launched in January 2015 and offers over 50 free courses that will teach you everything you need to know the website or app. They even have a tutorial for Stitch! They can be reached at contact@techboomers.com.


Many people don’t realize how public certain information that they post on the Internet is, or how it can be (and is) tracked, collected, and used for various purposes.  Usually, this doesn’t include sensitive identification or financial information, but it can include various other so-called “digital footprints”.  These include posts that you make or actions that you take on social networks, your Internet search or browsing histories, or even where in the world you are (yes, someone can figure this out by looking at your computer’s Internet address).

The reason we’re telling you all this is not to scare you into never turning on your computer again, but simply to make you aware that these practices are going on (though there are groups speaking out against them).  More importantly, though, we’re here to let you know that there are steps that you can take to minimize the effectiveness of these tracking and data collection practices, thereby preserving your privacy on the Internet (and they’re all perfectly legal!).  Here are five important things to know about Internet privacy.

1. Be extra mindful of privacy when using social networks.

While social networks like Facebook and Twitter can be useful for meeting people and discussing your mutual interests, their emphasis on sharing and connecting makes it difficult to maintain your privacy when using them.  One of the major reasons for this is that once someone else shares something that you post on a social network, it’s out of your control (because you can’t arbitrarily delete a post that someone else has made).  This makes information on social networks (and the Internet in general) almost impossible to completely erase once it has been posted.  Using a social network’s privacy settings can help, but your best defence is to be extremely mindful of what you post on any social network.

 

2. Know the real cost of “free-to-use” websites and applications.

Many social networks and Internet-based tools (such as search engines) don’t require you to pay any money to use them.  However, the Internet companies that run these services are often allowed to collect and sell information generated by your public Internet activities while using them (though, before you panic, this does not include sensitive identity and financial information).  These include links that you click on, keywords that you search for, information that you post in public spaces (such as public profile information or status updates)… even your Internet address, which can be used to figure out where you are in the world, is fair game.  This is why you will sometimes see advertisements on websites for products or services that have something to do with other places that you have been or other things that you have done on the Internet.

Deleting various elements of your Internet browsing history can hamper this process somewhat, as can using privacy-friendly custom Internet browsers and search engines (more on those later).  Also, on a final note, you will never have to worry about this practice when using Stitch.  Stitch respects your privacy, and only uses your personal information to confirm that you are who you say you are, process your subscription payments, and match you with other Stitch users.  Stitch won’t share your information with anyone else, and your Stitch information will never show up on search engines.

Check out this article on how to clear cache and browsing history.

 

3. Understand what “private browsing” does and doesn’t do.

Many popular Internet browsers have a “private browsing” mode, but it doesn’t protect your privacy on the Internet as much as many people assume that it does.  “Private browsing” simply deletes all Internet tracking records (such as your browsing history, cache, and cookies) from your computer when you close your browser, but only for that browser, and only for that session.  In that sense, “private browsing” really only protects your privacy from other people who use your computer and Internet browser.

What “private browsing” doesn’t protect your privacy from are entities that track and collect information about your Internet activities while you’re still browsing.  These can include governments, website owners, data collection companies, and even some overly-nosy individuals.  If you really want to make your online activities private, consider using a custom private Internet browser that uses technical tricks to block or interfere with data tracking and collection.  Popular choices include Epic Privacy Browser, T.O.R. (The Onion Router), and Comodo Dragon.

 

4. Use private search engines for consistent, untracked search results.

We just mentioned that many search engines trade being free-to-use for the ability to track, collect, and sell publicly-generated Internet data.  Well, there are some search engines that don’t do this.  They remain free-to-use while finding ways to make money that don’t involve spying on what you search for and selling that information to others (such as non-targeted advertising and donations from supporters).

Also, because these search engines don’t keep track of what you search for, you won’t get different search results if you search for the same keywords multiple times.  This is something that can happen with more common search engines, as they use your past search terms to predict what kind of results you might want to see in future searches.

Some popular “private search engines” include DuckDuckGo, StartPage, and Disconnect Search.

 

5. Learn how a website can and cannot collect and use your information.

Most modern websites have what is known as a “privacy policy”.  This is a document that outlines what information the website can/cannot (or will/will not) collect from you when you use it, as well as how the website can/cannot (or will/will not) use or share this information.  Unfortunately, few people read these important documents.  Often, they cannot comprehend the legal-style language, or erroneously assume that the existence of a privacy policy means that all of their activities on a website are private.

If you have concerns about how the information you post or produce while browsing a website is collected or used, read the website’s privacy policy carefully.  To make doing so easier, keep a few key questions in mind.  What information does the website collect from you when you use it, and why?  Who does the website share the information that they collect from you with, when, and why?  How long does the website keep information that they collect from you?  Looking for the answers to these questions in a website’s privacy policy will help you make an informed decision on whether or not you want to use that website or not, on account of whether or not it respects your privacy.

 

There is plenty of other information on how to better understand and protect your privacy on the Internet at our website, Techboomers.com.  In addition to lessons on Internet safety and Internet privacy, we also have over 50 courses on how to safely and easily use some of the hottest websites on the Internet today, from social networks like Facebook and media player services like Netflix to knowledge databases like WebMD and general information tools like Google Maps.  Stop on by!

 

2 Comments

  1. Rian Keith

    I think the topic of online privacy is so interesting to learn about! I enjoyed reading your top 5 things to know about privacy, it made me think in ways that I haven’t about the topic! I have never read a privacy policy from a website, but I am glad that it exists. What are the benefits of private browsers? It is so important to know what information that website is, and is not, collecting from you. Also, it is important to know how long they keep the information and what they do with it. Just like you said though, a lot of people do not take advantage of this feature. In the book, Digital Media Ethics, the author brings up the topic of cultural differences with online privacy (Ess, 2010). Have you had any outside experience with how different cultures view online privacy? The author brings up the specific example of how the European Union is not as worried about their personal information online as Americans are. I was just curious if you knew of any additional cultural differences, or maybe why this issue is not universally the same?

    Ess, C. (2010). Digital media ethics. Cambridge: Polity.

  2. Pamela

    I pay for a site called Reputation.com, you can protect previous & current residence address’s. If your name is mentioned in a newspaper clipping; if you buy merchandise on Amazon; if you post pictures on social media; protect bank account info. It will alert you through your email if something new has mentioned your name in a post. After you have protected yourself, it’s just harder for someone to trace you.

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