Online Privacy – What Should Matter To You The Most

Online privacy, in the broadest of sense, can be considered as a thing of the past. For most people, online privacy is pretty much non-existent, to such an extent that people willingly give out information related to their personal identities. A majority of online users aren’t aware, or at least don’t care about how this data is being used or how it may affect their personal, social, or professional lives.

For the minority who does, they don’t necessarily have to be considered paranoid if they are in general worried about how shared data can prove to be harmful in the long run. The web can be a dangerous place to share sensitive information.

Online privacy is in the news more than ever before. Several instances of identity theft, censorship, Government intrusion into privacy on the pretext of national security (think PRISM program controversy by NSA for example), and worse of all, online tracking by internet giants such as Google and Facebook have really diminished the relevance of online privacy. Let us take a look at what online privacy really means, and what affects your online privacy.

NSA slides explain the PRISM data-collection program

Meaning Of Online Privacy

Online privacy simply means having the ability to hide data or personal information that is being shared online. For example, Facebook allows users to choose from different privacy settings to ensure that the information being shared is available and accessible only to those with permission to do so. Blogging and content sharing platforms, on the other hand, are programmed to display data publicly without offering any privacy options.

However, don’t assume that privacy settings are sufficient to keep your data private and confidential. Websites such as Google and Facebook require a lot of user information for different services. Google, for instance, requires you to club all of your accounts, namely, Gmail, Google+, YouTube, Search and other Google services together. Therefore, all the data stored across all the different services are available at one place to accurately profile a person. Google uses this data to deliver targeted ads to their users.

Facebook also uses a similar strategy to correctly profile a user to deliver targeted advertisements. Due to the popularity of Facebook, it is normal for sensitive information, personal images and a lot of professional details to be shared in a public domain. Facebook is under discretion to utilize this data in whatever way they deem fit.

In terms of online privacy, and by the very definition, if any data about a user is being utilized by a company for monetary gain, it is clearly an invasion into the privacy of the user. Due to the nature of these websites, all information being shared can be collected and stored at a single place, which can then be reused for profit through advertising, or by selling this data to third parties. It might be surprising for most internet users to know that this kind of data logging practices, intrusion into online privacy and selling of sensitive personal information to third parties are done without the consent or knowledge of the user. This is what brings us to knowing what to share online and what to keep private so as to enjoy true online privacy.

Be Accountable & Think Before You Share

Facebook and other social media platforms, including Twitter, has become an online tool for sharing just about anything. These websites offer unmatched freedom to their users to utilize the platform to post updates, share photos & videos, share personal information and do more.

The problem with excessive usage of social media platforms is that the boundary between public information and private information diminishes, and in most cases, it becomes non-existent. Most people don’t realize the implications of such a freedom, and it is difficult to expect privacy if you keep sharing stuff online.

If you feel that something shouldn’t be online, then it shouldn’t be. You can’t just post it or share it and expect it to remain private. Yes, privacy settings can help you to hide your private data and make them accessible for only those people that you choose. However, your data is not as private or hidden as you might believe it to be.

Let’s take Facebook as an example. You share an image online and set the privacy settings to your friends’ access only. However, if any of your friends likes or shares the image, it immediately becomes public, and is dependent on the privacy settings of your friend, not your own. Imagine the scale of exposure your image would receive if it has been shared and liked multiple times. Unless you are vying for popularity, this will only diminish your online privacy.

This becomes a great issue for people who have professional lives that demand exemplary social behavior. Existing or prospective employers don’t want to see you in your underclothes. It is only normal for us humans to indulge in a bit of party streak, and in real life, people forget about the bad parts and move on. On the contrary, photos, videos and expressions shared online remain online unless you choose to delete it. Therefore, it is easy to retrieve such information at a moment’s notice. Nowadays, every employer browses through a candidate’s Facebook profile before hiring them, therefore, it makes sense to have a clear, professional and spotless online profile.

Online privacy is also relevant in terms of sharing data related to family and friends. You might be a social savvy person, but not all of your friends or relatives may be. If you choose to share online information without consent of all persons involved, you are violating online privacy of those individuals. Take a moment to reflect on what might be the effect of sharing particular information, before sharing it online. It is always great to talk to the people involved, and learn about their opinions.

Encrypt Your Online Financial Transactions

Online payment gateways promise you a lot of encryption and security protocols to ease your mind about the financial transaction that you are about to make. Online banking and credit card shopping just feels safe and convenient. But what you don’t understand is that this kind of information is vulnerable to security threats in multiple ways.

First and foremost, banks and other financial websites are regularly subjected to security attacks and there are instances of data theft that just don’t see the light of the day. Customers are unaware of such attacks, which is why people trust online transactions. While there is not much we can do to prevent such attacks, since it is the job of the bank or financial institution to prevent such attacks, what we can do is limit online transactions or utilize multiple encryption protocols and VPN services to make it tough for the hacker to retrieve your data.

Secondly, most payment gateways and encrypted websites that use HTTPS and SSTP secure protocols leave unencrypted caches on your local hard drive, which can either be retrieved by a virus or can be retrieved quite easily by physically stealing or accessing your hard drive. According to a recent study, more than 70% of the trusted financial websites adopt this technology, which is largely worrying. To prevent this, you have to browse without cookies or use incognito function on your browsers. This prevents any kind of cookie storage on your hard drive.

And last of all, unencrypted data sent over public networks such as Wi-Fi hotspots increases the risk of exposure, especially in the case of online financial transactions and other information transfer such as emails and cloud storage. In such a case, VPN technologies will help encrypt data and help it remain hidden from the prying eyes of a hacker or by other agencies that monitor internet traffic.

If you value your online privacy, make sure that you only share information that you feel can be used in a public domain. If you are reserved or apprehensive about the information, it is better not to share it. Try to use encryption technologies such as VPN to further enhance security and encrypt all of your internet traffic, as this will add a further layer in protecting your online privacy.