A lot has been said about your privacy online. More and more people are getting victims of phishers, scammers, and identity thieves in a range of privacy violations – from getting embarrassing status updates put up on their social networking sites, to downright criminal acts like unauthorized use of credit cards and money stolen from the victims’ Paypal or online bank accounts.
Here are the top 5 ways to protect your privacy online.
1. It is not limited to social media networks.
When talking about online privacy, social media sites like Facebook and MySpace immediately come to mind. While they are the most prevalent sites that identity thefts and other cyber criminals use to carry out their crimes, they are not the ONLY sites. You could get in trouble using e-mail, backing up your files online, or even through searching.
This is not to say that you should go lax with your privacy on social media sites, it is just the opposite: you should safeguard the personal information you have on your social media sites because they could be used for other sites as well.
To do this, you should use the site’s privacy option, which effectively makes your profiles invisible to people who are outside your contacts list. You be careful on adding people to your contacts list as well. If a stranger asks you to add him or her to your contacts list, think very carefully before you click that approve button.
Further, you should not post private information online, or information that would tell people where you would be at a particular day and time. Nor should you post pictures, blogs, and other content that may be deemed offensive, racist or reveals too much about you or your life that it could be used against you at some later time.
Lastly, do not share personal information online. This includes that of your friends. There may be sites that ask you to refer a page to a friend, and if you like their page, chances are you will input not only your name and contact details, but your friends’ as well. When asked to sign up with your e-mail address, you might want to create a new one for use on these sites, protecting your primary e-mail address.
2. E-mail is not secure.
A lot of people think that they can pour out their most private thoughts on an e-mail to their friends, but remember, e-mails are not secure. Aside from the rare mishaps of sending your e-mail to the wrong person, or –horrors!– to the general office address that carbon copies every single person you work with, there are also other people who can eavesdrop on the contents of your e-mails and even have the access to change its contents.
Remember that an e-mail message goes through several servers before getting delivered to your recipient. At each stop, there are people who could view your e-mails and read what you wrote.
To ensure that your sensitive e-mails are protected, encode it with an e-mail privacy program like Pretty Good Privacy or PGP. There are other similar software for you to use.
3. Everything you do on the Internet is being recorded… and USED.
If you have ever made a search online, you would notice that suggestions are made when you start typing out your search keywords. Upon closer inspection, you would see that some of these suggestions are for sites that you have visited recently.
The same goes for searches using the search engine’s own Web site. If you have noticed the ads coming out on the search results, they are likely to be related to what you have searched for.
Remember that everything you do online is recorded. A desktop search tool like Google Desktop, for example, will record all your searches while a Web-based e-mail provider like Google Mail will chronicle every e-mail you have sent or received. The information they gather would be used for marketing products and services to you.
4. Beware of browser cookies.
Browser cookies are like the bread crumbs that Hanzel and Gretel used to find their way back home. These cookies form the body of evidence of your activities online right down to where on the site you visited and how much time you spent on each page. You might want to turn off your browser’s option to accept all cookies and manually approve or deny cookies as necessary and always delete browser cookies after every session.
You can also use third-party cookie management applications and software like Internet Junkbuster Proxy or interMute.
5. Your IP is visible.
Remember that a numeric footprint would identify you everywhere online. By using your IP address, people could track where you are and what ISP you are using. If you use Internet broadband at home, your ISP could also associate your address with your IP.
If you do not want to be located, for some reason, then go use a different computer in a different location, where you have a different IP or you could use an anonymizer that hides your IP.