5 Ways to Improve Your Privacy Online
In this post-PRISM era, it's only natural to assume your Internet activity is an open book -- and you may just be right. "Always assume anything you put into a computer can be read by someone else and act accordingly," said John Simpson, privacy project director at Consumer WatchDog. How to reclaim some of that lost privacy? Start with these five steps.
It wasn't long after the Internet came into widespread use that online privacy became a growing concern. After all, anytime people are connected through their computers and sharing resources online, there's the potential for prying and abuse.
Such concerns were compounded with the arrival of social networks, online banking and, of course, malware -- among other points of potential weakness. Then -- just last month -- PRISM happened.
Today, it's only natural to wonder just how much of your Internet activity is truly private -- or to suspect that none of it really is.
Fundamentally, all data on the Internet falls into two broad categories: private and encrypted, or nonencrypted, publicly readable clear text.
Those two simple classes of data are continually shuttling around the Internet, either streaming in real-time or being persistently stored in archives as document and image files or in database records.
The reality is, without some method of strong encryption, anyone with access to your personal store of data can read your clear text documents, emails and files, in addition to seeing any other intermingled binary objects like photographs.
When you sign onto Facebook or Google, for example, you give both implicit and explicit permission to the respective Internet service provider to use part or all of the data associated with your activities in the manner specified by their Privacy Statement and Terms of Service agreement. Each ISP has them. Read them and determine if they are acceptable.
In the case of Google, your data won't be shared, but it will be parsed by Google (computer-speak for scanning keywords and lexical expressions for interpretation) in order to "intelligently" position personalized advertisements in your data stream for you to see while navigating their Web portal sites such as Google.com, Google Plus and Gmail.
Yet, even if your ISP says it won't share your data directly with third parties, how can you trust, much less verify, that such isn't being done?
The sad truth is, you probably can't -- nor should you. You also can't verify that your data isn't being passed around the Internet.
Even if Google were deemed 100 percent trustworthy and maintained an impeccable record on privacy with stringent security, should one hacker succeed in cracking your Gmail account's password, for example, that personal data -- if stored in non-encrypted, public form -- is then directly readable by the hacker.
"Always assume anything you put into a computer can be read by someone else and act accordingly," John Simpson, privacy project director at Consumer WatchDog, told TechNewsWorld.
Act accordingly indeed. In that regard, approach how you conduct yourself the same way you do in the physical world in public places.
The degree to which privacy is possible today is a matter of debate, but the bottom line is that all of your Internet activity is up for grabs unless locked away using encryption. That doesn't mean, however, that there aren't steps you can take to protect yourself at least to some extent.