14 January 2012
The Privacy Pirates: Tips for Keeping Private Information Private

Monitoring your behavior to figure out what you might buy isn’t new. Advertisers have been doing it for decades.

Yet, it somehow seems much more ominous in our web-enabled world, where online marketers are increasingly capturing more of our day-to-day activity – from the websites we visit to the online friends with whom we socialize.

With this in mind, take the time now to do some data housecleaning – and protect your privacy in the year ahead.

The Websites You Visit

Modern websites have evolved into powerful information platforms, often passing on personal data we share to numerous third parties.

Action: Look for online privacy trustmarks, such as the TRUSTe Web Privacy Seal and those offered by Verisign and McAfee. To verify the authenticity of these seals, click on them and see that the verification page is hosted by the respective company.

Your e-Mail

Methods of exploiting email have evolved significantly, as hacking has become more effective and phishing techniques more elaborate. Email service providers also are increasingly moving toward models that publicize and interconnect the data in your account.

Action: Use email service providers with strong security and spam filters. Microsoft Outlook, Yahoo Mail, and Gmail offer their users the ability to encrypt emails. If you use an email service provider that does not offer built-in encryption capabilities, you can use free email encryption protocols such as OpenPGP.

Your Web Browser

Modern browsers have an impressive array of privacy-enhancing capabilities and options. They can, for example, allow you to surf the web without downloading tracking files like cookies to your computer.

Action: If you use a Web browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari, update it to regularly ensure that it’s the most recent version so you can take full advantage of the included privacy features like “private browsing mode.”

Your Mobile Device

Mobile devices with GPS capabilities are fast becoming the norm. And while they use GPS data to help you navigate (and alert you to friends and deals in the area), they may also share that data with applications and advertisers.

Action: Most mobile platforms enable you to turn off this location feature, and some mobile platforms offer application-specific location controls. If you feel that location-aware applications are invading your privacy, take appropriate action with your privacy controls.

Social Media Sites

It’s important to understand when signing up for a new online service or account what model the site defaults to and how its users share information on the site. Twitter, for example, is an online service where the default is public: unless you specifically opt-in to private mode, your messages exchanged using Twitter are available to the general public.

Action: Don’t blindly sign up for a new online service or account. Take the time to understand the information-sharing settings on the service and the site’s general information model.


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