Have you ever taken a survey? If you have, you’ve no doubt felt that pang of self-conscious reflection when you are asked to reveal private data like your age, income, education, weight, or religious background. Do you ever think “Who are you again and why is it that you want to know this about me?” Who gives detailed information to strangers at a bar, at the mall, at a sales kiosk, or a car dealership? How do you know your information is really anonymous and it won’t be used against you in the future? Would the people in those examples your private identifying information like a drivers license, a bank account number, credit card, home address, or even a telephone number? The fact you certainly would not give out that information in person is what makes online sources a gold mine of personal information!
Start Thinking Strategically about your Data
In real life, when someone asks for your private data, you can look them in the eye and decide if you trust them. Even researchers will tell you it is a scientific fact that many people will falsify their private data on (verifiable) anonymous surveys. Treat the Internet the same way. First and foremost, don’t ever reveal your home address on the Internet unless the destination is trustworthy. That means not only refraining from sharing your mailing address, it also means disguising your IP Address. Your IP Address is tied directly to your physical address via your Telecom (Cable Company, Phone Company, or Cellular Provider). If you doubt that’s true, just ask yourself how they know to bill you each month for your usage! How can you do this? Just keep reading – we’re going to tell you!
A Glass Fish Tank for Personal Information
Thinking strategically about your private data will allow you to see how valuable it really is to every site your visit! Your attention alone is a signal of buying intent, interest, demographics, politics, education, gender, sex, and more. The more you interact, the more you reveal about yourself. Not long ago few of us would have dreamed the U.S. Department of Justice would issue a subpoena for the IP Addresses of all visitors to a political protest website. As recent events have shown, for some destinations, “valuable information” is as simple as your IP Address and what content you visited.
Private Data is the Price of “Free”
Private Data Completes a Consumer Profile
Everyone is aware of Google, Facebook, and other social media tracking your actions on their sites. But the real revelations about wide-ranging consumer profiling surfaced when Facebook was revealed to be combining its social information with users more detailed private consumer data held at large data brokers. What are large consumer data brokers? Let’s use a specific example. Why not take 5 minutes and see what your own profile looks like? Acxiom is one of the premier (but not the only) vendors of consumer Profile Data. To address some public concerns, they have established a program to allow you to see some of what they know about you. Just follow this link, register, and log in. In a few minutes you’ll be able to get a glimpse of the sort of information that is being traded about you right now. If you are (understandably) nervous about the information you have to give to see your profile, here is someone else’s experience.
Hiding your IP Hides your Information
Outside of your IP Address, the only source of information about you is… well, you! What happens over time is that your IP Address is recorded as a series of location points. IP Address information is combined with login information – usually email, first and last name, and a password. Then your interests are accumulated based on what videos you watch, pages you access (items you <heart> or <like>), items you purchase, and anything else you volunteer – like your birthday or your phone number. (Don’t be naive, not long ago Facebook was caught using “recovery phone numbers” for more private data mining.) Private information is packaged, repurposed, and sold to the highest bidder. Remember, many sites are sharing your personal profile from Google Adwords, Facebook Pixel, and other similar tools to create a wide-ranging picture of your private information. Below is a snapshot of these linkages (Nov 2017 – Feb 2018) using the Mozilla Lightbeam plugin: 1,228 Third Party sites and linkages!
Everyday Privacy is Simple
Protecting your privacy online is relatively simple: stop introducing yourself to every stranger you meet. When you are browsing the Internet, shopping for new goods and services, or participating in political dialogue use these simple tools. Then browse and review and comment to your heart’s content knowing you are anonymous and your privacy is being protected, even though you are “Logged In.” Don’t be afraid to mix and match these tools but just remember some of these tools are themselves asking for your personal information. Any time you have to “trust” a company (ahem, Disconnect & Ghostery) there is an avenue for exposure – this is true for VPN services, ISPs, Blockers, and any company who asks for your information.
Tunnel Bear VPN – Free and Easy VPN
Get Nada – Stop Junk Mail
TutaNota – Secure and Anonymous Email
Mozilla Firefox Web Browser – Anti-Tracking Built-In
Mozilla Firefox Focus – for Mobile Users concerned about privacy
Tor Browser Bundle – The first, the best for Desktop… and the slowest 🙁
EFF Privacy Badger – an all-inclusive tracking blocker for your desktop
Disconnect – Last but surely not least