How to Protect Your Privacy Online

From Raycom News Network via By Rachel Bennett, September 15, 2013

RNN) – The web is a dangerous place. Browsing safely is your own responsibility.

You’re only as safe online as you make yourself, and the best way to do that is to not share your personal information unless it’s absolutely necessary with someone you know and trust. Your name, address, contact information and certainly social security number and bank information can lead to identity theft.

You might be surprised to learn how easy that information is to grab.

Some online advertisers use shady tactics to buy and sell your information to other websites, so they can cater to your purchasing habits.

Con artists also sell damaging info to unscrupulous advertisers or steal your identity to drain your bank account or charge things to your credit cards. They can get that information through phishing, the practice of pretending to be somebody else to delude you into sharing usernames, passwords and the like.

While you may not be able to protect yourself from Uncle Sam spying in, there are a slew of things you can do to protect yourself from other potential threats such as scammers, con artists, hackers, viruses, invasive or aggressive advertising and reputation suicide.

Browsing securely

A big key is configuring your internet browser that keeps malicious software from attacking your computer. You should also learn to recognize suspicious links and clickable elements and that could infect your computer with malware and viruses.

  • Always use the prefix HTTPS – which means HTTP Secure, instead of HTTP in the URL – that’s what usually shows up before the “www” in website addresses.
  • HTTPS encrypts the connection to websites, making sure your email or bank account number remains secure. When HTTPS is enabled, you may see a small icon of a lock in your address box.
  • Don’t click on suspicious links, and be wary of seemingly “normal” links that can redirect your browser and take you to a malicious site.
  • Be wary of unsolicited email and don’t click links or download attachments they contain unless the email comes from a source you know. When in doubt, check it out.
  • Enable your browser’s built-in pop-up blocker.
  • Regularly delete your cookies and browsing history.
  • Be careful which advertisements you click. If they take you to a page asking you to download something, don’t do it.
  • Consider installing an advertisement blocking add-on to your browser.
  • Regularly change your website account passwords and use a unique password for each account.

Social media

Social media is a minefield. Embarrassing photos, unwanted messages from people you don’t know – or sometimes those you do – are all part of the danger. Familiarize yourself with the privacy settings for each social media platform you use.

We’ve linked a few of them here, so you can click your social media platform of choice to check your privacy settings: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, Myspace.

  • Keep abreast of the latest privacy changes from your social media platform. Facebook is notorious for frequent changes.
  • Don’t post what you wouldn’t want your parents, boss or children to see.. Sooner or later, they will.
  • Choose your “friends” carefully.
  • Be conscious of who can see each post, image or video you make.
  • Turn off geolocation.
  • Don’t post when you are going on vacation or will not be at home.
  • Don’t link social media accounts to one another, or link your social media accounts to email accounts.
  • Make sure applications you download use social media carefully. Many applications ask for your contacts and to post to your account. Don’t give it up lightly.
  • Regularly review which applications have access to your social media accounts. Revoke access for applications you no longer use.

Computer safety

  • Password-protect your computer and set up different accounts for each user, or adults and children.
  • Set up a separate administrator account for shared computers and restrict the privileges for non-administrators.
  • Restrict children’s use of the internet so you can keep an eye on them.
  • Don’t use your computer on public, non-password-protected Wi-Fi.
  • Password-protect your home wireless signal to keep strangers out. Ask your internet provider how to do this.
  • Don’t download things without checking them out first.
  • Make sure to “uncheck” the option to download additional toolbars or programs that come bundled in programs like Adobe Flash or Java.
  • Read the terms of service for any program you download.

Mobile devices

Treat smartphones and tablets the same way you do your computer. They contain vast amounts of data, contact list and your physical locations.

  • Password protect your device and set it to lock automatically when it goes inactive, between 60 seconds and 15 minutes.
  • Turn off geolocation when you take photographs.
  • Be choosy with application downloads. Read the terms of service for all applications to find out what information you’re giving them.
  • Periodically review the permissions, including location, for all of your applications and revoke the ones that are unnecessary.
  • Download an application that can wipe your device clean in case it’s lost or stolen. These applications can show where the thief took your phone and can and erase all the data. It can be accessed remotely.
  • Clear your device’s cookies and browser history regularly.
  • Don’t use your device over public, non-password protected Wi-Fi.
  • Be wary of unsolicited texts or messages and don’t reply unless you know the sender.

Don’t fall for scams

Scammers and con artists use increasingly clever tactics to prey on victims to steal their identity, their money or sell their information to the highest bidder. Don’t share your personal information to an unsolicited sender for any reason.

  • Don’t believe people who say they can give you money – Nigerian princes don’t really ask kindly Americans to cash checks for them.
  • Don’t cash checks or money orders from unsolicited requests.

Nosy cookies: How advertisers use scripts to find out who you are

Internet cookies are a familiar part of web surfing, but most people probably don’t realize how much they can change your browsing experience.

Cookies and scripts you pick up as you browse sites can decide which advertisements you see, even changing the price of items you shop for.

Essentially, online, privacy is all but nonexistent if you don’t watch out for yourself.

Behavioral, or tailored, advertising uses information collected about you to determine specific advertisements or content to show you based on your behavior.

Advertising on TV, in a magazine or on the walls of sports stadium have become a part of life in America. Ad revenues pay for some or all of entertainment, sports and news that might be unavailable without the added money.

But did you know that advertisements can also inform your family you’re pregnant before you do? That’s what happened to a teenage girl from Florida who began receiving advertisements from Target for baby supplies.

That may be an isolated, extreme example but the same sort of thing happens every day, every minute, every second online where data mining is made so much easier by the use of tracking devices that tell websites your browsing and search history, social media accounts, demographics and more.

Tailored advertising is different from targeted advertising, which makes ads fit the content being viewed: like when you see local restaurant ads on your local news station, or department store ads when you click through photos from a fashion show. The reasoning is that anyone looking at the site would find the ads relevant.

But behavioral advertising takes it a step further, skipping past the general audience to go straight for you.

The information gathered can include your age and gender, your address, your credit score, even how much your house is worth.

It even includes health information according to a study done by University of Southern California associate professor Marco D. Huesch. He also found several free, public-health websites that gave their information to third-party advertisers.

Behavioral action experiment

We did a simple experiment in our newsroom, a few of us assuming online personas to browse and search the web to see what kind of cookies we picked up.

These personalities ranged from a preteen obsessed with One Direction and Justin Bieber, to middle-aged housewives who enjoy gardening and a farmer who likes to travel.

We cleared our browser history and deleted our Google Chrome accounts, then turned our browser cookies on, accepted all content, opened up the browser, and let loose with a flurry of searches through Google and other sites, looking for things we thought would be relevant to our personas’ interests.

It didn’t take long, 48 hours in fact, for the first tailored advertisements to show up. That farmer started seeing advertisements for things like State Farm insurance and travel sites like Hotline or even Delta Airlines. The housewife began seeing advertisements for AARP.

You can find what demographic Google says you fall under by going to

How it’s regulated

According to the DMA Corporate Responsibility Resource Center, which promotes “responsible data-driven marketing,” responsible behavioral advertising “relies on anonymous, aggregated data to deliver an ad to a computer based on the computer’s browser activity, not the activities of a specific individual.”

Currently, advertising is largely self-regulated. The Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau largely agree with self-regulation, and many advertising agencies partner with national trade organizations like the IAB, which in turn make promises to protect privacy with programs like the Digital Advertising Alliance.

But a lengthy study done by University of Colorado Law School associate professor Paul Ohm found that self-regulation when it comes to user privacy and anonymity simply doesn’t work, and that the failure of anonymous data is a disruption to privacy law.

“Clever adversaries can often re-identify or de-anonymize the people hidden in an anonymized database,” he wrote, adding that simply erasing names and social security numbers won’t preserve anonymity.

“How many other people in the United States share your specific combination of ZIP code, birth date (including year) and sex,” he asked. “According to a landmark study, for 87 percent of the American population, the answer is zero; these three pieces of information uniquely identify each of them.”

Another study by  the University of Pennsylvania and the Berkeley Centre for Law and Technology found that 66 percent of adults in the U.S. do not want advertising based on what advertisers perceive as their interests. And when it was explained what methods advertisers use to collect that information, the number of people who didn’t want that type of advertising rose to between 73 and 86 percent.

There are ways to prevent behavioral advertising, and they all fall back on keeping good privacy practices across the board on your devices, your accounts and the public presence you put online.

Published in: on September 15, 2013 at 10:20 am  Leave a Comment  

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