How We Give Away Our Privacy (And How to Take It Back)

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Deciding what information should be public isn’t just important for your reputation and mental health. Keeping your account numbers and identifying information secret can help prevent financial fraud, protecting you and property. In a country like Syria in the midst of turmoil, your privacy can be a matter of life and death.

But for most of us, we’re willing to trade a litte of our privacy for a service we like, or a little company.

Thorin Klosowski recently published a piece on Lifehacker called “Living in Public: What Happens When You Throw Privacy Out the Window”. In it, he describes how he, a very private person, decided to live his life in public.

For three weeks, Thorin shared his location through location-based social networks wherever he went. He made all of his activity on his favorite apps public. He allowed all of his Internet activity to be tracked by anyone who wanted to track it.

After three weeks, he asked a stranger to take a look at all of his activity and tell him what she thought. What she said and what Google thought about him (see what Google thinks about you here) turned out to be pretty accurate.

The reason that social networks are addictive, I’d argue, is that they are pretty good representations of who we are in real life. The problem arises as we share we may create evidence online that can look bad out of context—like those party pictures. The old notions of a private self that your boss doesn’t know are transforming drastically every day. Some of it is beyond your control. But there is a lot you can do.

The first thing to do is to think about the tools that may give away your privacy.

Here are a few:

  • Social networks—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. Do we need to mention Google+?
  • Location-sharing services like Foursquare or posting pictures that include your location data on it.
  • Browsing the Internet without turning off tracking tools.
  • Allowing services like Google to track your history.
  • Apps that encourage social sharing.

How can you limit the privacy you give away?

  • Master the privacy settings on every social network you use.
    You always need to keep whom you’re sharing with in mind. And it’s always best to share under the premise that anyone in the world could come across your post. Settings for Facebook may be ‘Labyrinthian’. But settings generally resemble Twitter’s two basic choices: public or locked down. You should also enable two-step authentication tools when available, such as for Google.
  • Avoid using private computers or open Wi-Fi networks when you don’t have a VPN running.
  • Use strong passwords your friends can’t guess.
  • Use tools that stop your web activity from being blocked. Klosowski has a good list of them in his post under the heading “Letting Websites Track and Collect All the Data They Want”.
  • Avoid apps that encourage social sharing and turn off location data in your images.
  • Keep ALL of your devices patched and protected with the latest system and security software. Our free Health Check makes that easy for your PC.
  • Always think before you click publish, post or check-in.

For every free service we use, there is a cost. On the Internet that cost is usually privacy.

You can’t always expect people to respect your privacy. But you can always respect your own.

What tools am I missing that give away or protect your privacy?

Cheers,
Jason

(CC image by Lance Nielsen.)

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