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Internet Privacy Concerns: Your Responsibilities

written by: Steve Mallard•edited by: Michael Dougherty•updated: 5/24/2011

With Behavioral Marketing, cookies, messaging, search engines, online forms, email, ISPs, mobile computing and more, consumers need to truly read policies, review settings on websites and their web browsers and to be aware when giving out personal information.

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    The internet and your privacy

    In today's world, you expose your privacy more than you will ever know. With your internet service provider, email, social networks, search portals, public transactions such as land purchases, cookies, flash cookies, instant messaging and other internet vehicles; you expose information about your internet surfing habits, online transactions and other private information.

    It is important to have control of this information and to actively monitor the information you or your business may be exposing to the world.

    Malicious users can gather this information and literally use this information for their personal gain. What information is gathered about your surfing habits?

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    Your ISP and email

    If you have signed up for internet service you have given away information to a business that now has also setup an email for you. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) give you an IP address that is unique to you. This address which is like a license plate on a car identifies you and under record retention policies are logged at your ISPs level. This means your internet service provider monitors where and when you surf the web.

    Your email address including emails are backed up at the ISP level. Although you may delete personal or business emails, the ISP backs this information up for disaster recovery and planning on their end. If you use online email the same is true. Have you ever noticed the ads around the interface of your email match the contents of your email? In order to fund the 'free' email you use, the provider uses software to look through your email to find keywords and a custom ad is delivered to you.

    Always read the privacy policy of your ISP and email provider.

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    Social Networking

    With all of the concern in the news on Social Networking, Facebook has taken a hit on how data is handled on their main website and with their advertisers.

    Controls are in place with Facebook to limit the amount of information about you. Under the settlings in Facebook, you can control who sees your personal information, photos, posts and other information. You should always limit this information to friends and should further limit this information to friends who are not close to you. Placing personal information such as your address, employer and phone numbers (including your cellphone) can give malicious users access to information you don't normally give out. Limit this information that gives out demographic information about you.

    Businesses on Social Sites are encouraged to give this information out but should limit phone numbers to business numbers only.

    Photos can expose you and create a vulnerability that you are not aware of. Taking pictures of valuables and collectables can expose let someone know about these items. Pictures of your personal vehicle and license plates can let someone know information about how to find you. If this sounds paranoid and seems to fall outside of the scope of data privacy, you have to remember that homes have been burglarized by mutual friends on social networking sites.

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    Mobile Computing and Privacy

    Have you ever thought that geo-location applications on your phone can give out information you don't want others to know?

    Giving out your geo-location tells followers on Social Netwoks - 'I am here!'. This information could provide stalkers with where you, who you are with and what you are wearing! This is should be a grave concern for anyone. This information also tells the follower who is in your home and if it is vulnerable.

    Using many of these mobile devices in coffee shops, schools or other hotspots also allows someone who is sniffing a network the ability to identify what the user is doing and where the user is surfing.

    Consider disabling geo locating software and always use a VPN when connecting to a hotspot. Always make sure you know the network your attaching to. Malicious users can setup a virtual hotspot inside of a business such as a coffee shop and you can inadvertently connect to the 'hackers' network causing your data to pass through the malicious person's device.

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    Search Engines and Search Portals

    Search engines and search portals can keep data (your ip address) and information about your surfing habits. Yahoo, Bing and Google can keep data on you from 90 days to 9 months. Many search engines associate their free email with their search information. Therefore if you sign in to your email and use the associate search engine, more information may be retained about your search and surfing habits. Many of these sites such as Google and Gmail offer a way under settings to disable your history.

    These search engines often offer Toolbars that are installed in your browser. Although some toolbars are useful tools, they can collect information about you. Uninstall toolbars on your computer to improve the performance of your computer and to protect your privacy.

    Note: Links are provided on the above search engines' privacy policies.

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    Websites, forums, messaging and newsletters

    Most websites have cookies that are placed on your computer as place holders to keep you signed in for an certain amount of time. These cookies can provide information about who you are and other information. Websites with flash cookies can also collect information about your web surfing habits. Cookies and temporary files should be cleaned from your computer. Programs such as CCleaner, Glarysoft and other utilities should be used to remove cookies from your computer. Adobe offers a manager to manage how flash information is stored.

    When signing up to forums, blogs or newsletters, take into consideration that these sites may gather information on you. Read the privacy policies for these sites and see how information is gathered about your account. Today, a majority of these sites require you to sign up and join the website. This allows the site to use your email (often selling the information) and other information when they want.

    Before using messaging software, review the privacy policy and review the setting to see if the information and the chat is private. Many online email services offer video and chat. Do you know how the information is used and handled? Can others see this data?

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    Resources

    The Federal Trade Commission has a program call Stop, Think, Click. The Onguard Online website (Stop, Think, Click) gives dozens of tips on privacy and how to handle situations you'll find yourself in when using the internet. With Behavioral Marketing, cookies, messaging, online forms, email, ISPs, mobile computing and more, consumers need to truly read policies, review settings on websites and their web browsers and to be aware when giving out personal information.