One of the hottest computer topics that attract public interest is privacy. The ease and efficiency with which computers and internet are used to gather, store, search, compare, retrieve and share personal information make computer technology especially threatening to anyone who wishes to keep various kinds of "sensitive" information out of the public domain or out of the hands of those who are perceived as potential threats. During the past decade, commercialization and rapid growth of the internet; the rise of the world-wide-web; increasing "user-friendship" and processing power of computers; and decreasing costs of computer technology have led to new privacy issues.
Many people have been tricked my e-mail scams, claiming that they will make you a millionaire. It is the same sort of pyramid scheme that exists over the SMS or e-mail, but no laws covered it for a while. Also, many e-mail chain letters have allowed urban legends to spread at an accelerated rate and created alarm over hoaxes concern many food and drug products. These e-mails only bog down e-mail systems and servers, but do not seem to be ending. Some advertisers also e-mail unsolicited ads to e-mail users, in a practice known as spamming.
Let us now look at the most concerned aspects of privacy online:
o Protecting you: Online stalking has been a problem, with people harassing new 'friends' online and sometimes even threatening them, or confronting them.
o Protecting your data: This comes not from the fear of physical, but financial harm. Strangers may hack sensitive data such as your credit card number or sometimes any confidential information or site maps or photographs that are being mailed.
A recent survey states that 93% of commercial Internet sites collect some sort of data that may be used to identify you (this may be your home address, you e-mail address, name, etc.) and 57% collect demographics. Over one third of these sites did not post any information that they were collecting data and / or what it would be used for. The report concluded that only 10% of the commercial web sites that collected personal or demographic information followed fair information practices in respect to notice, choice, access, security and contact information.
Although there are laws to protect such kind of activity, seldom they are investigated. The Communication Decency Act that that telecommunications, meaning the Internet, e-mail, chat and chat programs (including IRC, AIM, and ICQ) should not be used to purposely harass or intimidate. You can not e-mail bomb people.
The Online Privacy Alliance, made up of promotent companies in communications and technology is trying to help the internet industry self-regulate privacy topics. This may favor industries. Still, this leaves out individual consumers and others whose privacy is actually what is being debated. The Online Privacy Alliance suggests that consumers should look for privacy policies and be careful where they post their information. Bad guys will always try to steal your credit card number, telemarketers will always pay someone for your phone number, and companies will always try to collect data for advertising purposes. Such is the way of the world.
But certainly, there are always ways to prevent than cure.
Tips to protect you and your data.
1. Always look out for privacy policies.
Web sites can collect a lot of information about your visit – what computer you use, what type of hardware and software you have, what Web sites you have visited. Web sites that ask you to provide even a small amount of personal information can tie the data you provide to your browsing habits. Never give your e-mail id to unauthorized third party web sites.
2. Always have separate personal e-mail account.
Often, online users do not realize that e-mail sent from their work accounts is likely to be an open book to their employers. Even if you send an e-mail from your home, a copy is often stored on your employer's main computer server. Your employer has a legal right to read any and all correspondence in this account.
Getting a separate account for personal use allows you to check your personal messages without using your office e-mail server.
3. Always remember to clean your computer's memory after browsing.
When you browse the Web, copies of all accessed pages and images are saved on your computer's memory. Although this helps in visiting the same web page next time faster, the browsing record it contains intervenes your privacy; Particularly, if you share a computer at the work spot. You can delete most of your online trail by simply going to the "Preferences" folder in your browser and clicking on the "Empty Cache" button. Sometimes this option is in the "Advanced" menu of the browser preferences. In Internet Explorer, go to "Internet Options" from the "Tools" menu and click on "Clear History".
4. Always watch out when you fill online forms.
Online forms may be digitally transported in ways that leave them vulnerable to undesired access. Alternatively, online forms may be encrypted so that only the intended recipients can easily translate the information.
You should ensure that your information is stored and transferred in secure ways. Many browser companies have realized the importance of data security; new browsers are designed to indicate whether the accessed page allows encrypted transfers. The commonly used graphics are a key, which is broken if the page is insecure, and a lock – locked is secure and unlocked is not secure. The graphic appears in the corner of the browser screen; clicking on the lock or the key will inform you of additional security information about the page. You should not provide sensitive personal information about yourself (such as credit card number) on Web pages that are not secure.
5. Always discard needless Cookies
How to get rid of cookies? You can search your hard drive for a file with the word "cookie" in it (ie, cookies.txt or MagicCookie) to view the cookies that have been attached to your computer. Newer browsers allow you to recognize sites that send you cookies and reject them outright by accessing the "Advanced" screen of the "Preferences" menu. In Internet Explorer, delete cookies by clicking on the "Delete Files" button in the "General" icon of "Tools" '"Internet Options" menu.
6. Always use encryption to keep your e-mail private
E-mail is not as secure a medium as many believe. The internet is really no more or less secured than the Postal Service. Most people, including your mail carriers, have no real desire to read your personal letters or open your checks. If you send a postcard, people will probably turn it over and read it if they have the chance. The human species is naturally curious. The number of hackers out there specifically interested in your mail or e-commerce is very small. Currently, there exist technologies that allow you to encrypt your messages in order to protect their privacy. Some e-mail programs (ie, Internet Explorer, Outlook, and Netscape Messenger) have encryption.
7. Use "anonymous remailers" for e-mails and anonymize yourself while browsing when privacy is essential.
Anonymity is essential to privacy and free speech. It helps people to discuss on controversial subjects and enable one to publish without a forwarding address. The e-mail technology creates problems for the right to anonymous communication since the sender of a message can be traced back through digital paths. But, "anonymous remailers" currently allow you to send anonymous e-mail messages. From the moment you type in a Web address, a log is kept with information about your visit. Every day, most of us walk down the street without being recognized or tracked. While anonymity is often taken for granted in the physical world, such luxury is not available online by default. But tools that strip out user information, thus preserving anonymity, have been created and are readily available on the net.
8. Let your kids know about the dangers of giving away personal information to strangers online
Tell your children that they should ask your permission before they can give out their name, address or other information about themselves or the family to a web site. A number of Web sites encourage children to give information about themselves or their family; some even attract kids with games and free gifts. Make children understand that, giving away valuable information on the web is like giving information to strangers.
9. Do not dispute your passwords or credit card numbers with your friends.
Privacy should be maintained at your level also. Never dislose your passwords even with your closest friend. Human beings are never the same. Your close friend today may turn out to be your enemy tomorrow. It is better to always conceal certain things to maintain privacy. Never disclose passwords or credit card numbers, whatever the situation may be. If you have revealed it by chance, then change the password immediately.
10. Always be alert
Use common sense, ask questions and seek out resources. Would you give your credit card number to a street vendor? Would you open a mail from an unknown person? How much information does the magazine realistically need to process a subscription? Will you be subjected to a ton of unsolicited mail and e-mail bomb if you disclose your physical or e-mail address? These questions that you ask yourself will certainly restrain you from giving unwanted information.
Follow all these tips, you can be a fearless Web user of course; you must realize, however, that people in cyberspace are the same people you encounter every day in the physical reality: your neighbors, your collections.
The Internet is a new medium, as was the telephone more than a century ago. If used wisely, it can connect you to a world of people, ideas and information.