Simple Everyday Internet Privacy

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 you give 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 giver out that information in person is what makes online sources a gold mine!

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 fudge their private data on completely 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.

The US Dept of Justice requests all Server Logs for Protest Site

Private Data is the Price of “Free”

You should be especially cautious with any “free” site.  News outlets, social media, video sharing – any time the site is “free” the way it makes money is to sell users private data and information to anyone who will pay. The incentive for “Free Sites” is to constantly collect information about users private data and use monitoring tactics to learn your age, income, education, political preferences, interests, and on and on…  The intent is to be the best, most informed, deepest “data well” of private data about users that can possibly exist so it can be sold as profitably as possible. For a demonstration, read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy of any site you regularly visit. No sites ever say clearly “we are collecting your private data for sale” – it is buried in “legalese”. Next time you wonder what private data a site collects, try visiting “Terms of Service, Didn’t Read“.

Quickly check the Terms of Service of your Favorite sites

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.

Be patient while they update their strategy (but this is what you used to access)

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!

This is just from 3 months on a test machine (not even my “daily driver”).

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

AdBlock Plus – The original “Blocker”

uBlock – New Kid on the Block

Ghostery – Since 2009 (Now Open Source)

Disconnect – Last but surely not least

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