Just how private is the information we post online, knowingly or unknowingly? This is the question being asked today, probably more urgently than ever, with recent revelations about monitored communications and news about secret orders from surveillance agencies. The scary truth, which many internet users know, is that none of the information that is posted online ever gets deleted completely. This alone is enough to have caused many to go the way of Jake Reilly and his Amish Project.
But there are other elements which, although they may barely register on our radar can actually put our privacy at great risk. And when put together, they can present an even more significant privacy threat.
The Cookie Conundrum
Although as friendly-sounding as a breakfast cereal commercial, cookies are actually tiny tracking devices that watch your every move. And according to experts, there are more of them now than there ever were. Without cookies, no business could target its advertising, meaning far less revenue. Cookies tell those companies what you like, who you are and where on the web you travel.
Cookies are actually bits of data that web sites place on your hard drive once you’ve visited them. Whenever a visitor returns to a website they’ve already received cookies from, their browser transmits the information back to the web server. From there, the server can track which internal pages the visitor goes to, and can even customize the way the web site appears to the visitor based on their selections from their last visit. However, the good news is that cookies can be removed. Doing this involves following simple instructions which are available with a quick web search.
Flash cookies, also called ‘supercookies’, however, are more difficult for users to remove. This is because the traditional methods used to remove cookies simply don’t work on the Flash variety. This type of cookie may soon become a thing of the past, thanks to today’s ability to prevent them from being saved onto your computer. This can be done by disabling Flash altogether, or changing the way that Flash is configured on a system.
Where You Are
Location data has slowly and surreptitiously made its way into millions of devices. Whether it’s turned on to get more personalized weather predictions or just to let friends know where you’ve been, location data can actually be way more threatening than it appears. And, it may soon get easier to track your movements than ever, what with the vast increase in smart devices like watches and cars.
When you think about how many places you visit in just one day, you begin to realize just how pervasive location data can be. If you have a smart phone given to you by an employer, it could very well be used to track your movements, even after you’ve left the office. The scariest thing about location data, according to many is the fact that there are not many laws to govern them, and the laws that do exist are not very strict. While users may find it virtually impossible to restrict the amount of data they share, that information is easily accessible for governments.
Using The Internet For Your Health
The internet is a vast, virtually endless information resource and millions of people use it to help themselves learn about health conditions. But even these types of information searches can be monitored. It was recently revealed that users were exposed to third-party advertising on medical information sites, and that their data was being tracked.
This is seen as a breach of confidentiality by many experts. And the dangers of the exposed information getting to an employer or into the hands of a disliked individual may be too much to bear for many, who may simply choose not to go online for the information they need.
Whether or not online privacy issues will ever be resolved remains a mystery. But the more sophisticated our devices become at gathering data, the more urgent repairs to privacy issues will become if the goal is to create something positive from our developing technology.
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Guest author Jesse Schwarz writes on a variety of topics related to technology. He is particularly interested in internet safety for kids in today’s online environment.