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

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.)

More posts from this topic

MB

In what color would you like your new Mercedes?

A new Mercedes. Nice. Or maybe an Audi R8? That would be cool. But hold it! Don’t sell your old car yet! Liking and sharing that giveaway campaign on Facebook will NOT give you a new car. Those prizes doesn’t even exist. They are just hoaxes. Internet and Facebook is full of crap, junk, rubbish, nonsense and gibberish. Nobody knows how many chain letters there are spreading some kind of unbelievable story. False celebrity news, bogus first-aid advice, phony charity campaigns and this kind of giveaways. We tend to think about these chain letters as hoaxes, pretty harmless jokes that doesn’t hurt us. But that’s not the full story. A hoax can be harmful, like the outright dangerous first aid advice that some people keep spreading. But a car giveaway is probably a harmless and safe prank, even if it’s false? No, not really. These chain letters are actually not traditional hoaxes, they are like-farming scams. There’s no free lunch, you don’t pay for Facebook with money but with your private data. The like-farming scams work in the same currency. You will not lose any money even if you like the page and share it. Instead you will participate in building a page with a lot of supporters, which is valuable and can be sold later. Needless to say, you will not get any of that money. Here’s how it works. Any business has a problem when starting on Facebook. An empty page without likes isn’t trustworthy. So the scammers set up a page containing anything that can go viral. A promise to get a luxury car works well. They just have to tell everyone to like the page and to share it as much as possible, to keep the chain reaction going and get even more likes. The scammers wait until there’s enough likes before they clean out the content, rename it and start looking for a buyer. The price is in “$ per k”, meaning dollars per 1000 likes. A page with 100 000 likes could sell for over $1000. So sharing the page can make quite a lot of money for the scammers if you have a lot of gullible friends, who in turn have a lot of gullible friends, and so on … The downside for you is that the likes stick even if the page is redesigned for some totally different purpose. Your face will be an evangelist for the page’s new owners and show up next to their brand. And you have no idea about what you will be promoting. I have friends who are anti-fur activists. You can probably imagine what one of them would feel when discovering that she likes a fur-coat designer! And finally some concrete advice. Review your list of old likes regularly. Remove everything except those things you truly like and want to support. When you encounter a giveaway post like this, check the involved brand’s main page in Facebook by searching for the brand name. You will in most cases notice that the giveaway is a totally different page that just is named similarly. That’s a strong scam indicator. Use common sense. From the above you get an idea about what likes in Facebook are worth. Does it make sense to give away luxury cars for this? Don’t participate in scams like this. It might feel tempting, but remember that your chance to win is exactly zero. Spread knowledge every time you see a scam of this kind. Comment with a link to this post or the appropriate description on Hoax-Slayer or Snopes.   Those sites are by the way fun and educating reading. I recommend spending some time there getting familiar with other types of hoaxes too. Read at least these two articles: Facebook car giveaway on Snopes and Facebook like-farming scams on Hoax-Slayer .   Safe surfing, Micke  

Dec 16, 2014
BY 
Facbook terms

Facebook’s new terms, is the sky falling?

You have seen them if you are on Facebook, and perhaps even posted one yourself. I’m talking about the statements that aim to defuse Facebook’s new terms of service, which are claimed to take away copyright to stuff you post. To summarize it shortly, the virally spreading disclaimer is meaningless from legal point of view and contains several fundamental errors. But I think it is very good that people are getting aware of their intellectual rights and that new terms may be a threat. Terms of service? That stuff in legalese that most people just click away when starting to use a new service or app. What is it really about and could it be important? Let’s list some basic points about them. The terms of service or EULA (End User License Agreement) is a legally binding agreement between the service provider and the user. It’s basically a contract. Users typically agree to the contract by clicking a button or simply by using the service. These terms are dictated by the provider of the service and not negotiable. This is quite natural for services with a large number of users, negotiating individual contracts would not be feasible. Terms of service is a defensive tool for companies. One of their primary goals is to protect against lawsuits. These terms are dictated by one part and almost never read by the other part. Needless to say, this may result in terms that are quite unfavorable for us users. This was demonstrated in London a while ago. No, we have not collected any children yet. Another bad thing for us users is the lack of competition. There are many social networks, but only one Facebook. Opting out of the terms means quitting, and going to another service is not really an option if all your friends are on Facebook. Social media is by its nature monopolizing. The upside is that terms of service can’t change the law. The legislation provides a framework of consumer and privacy protection that can’t be broken with an agreement. Unreasonable terms, like paying with your firstborn child, are moot. But be aware that the law of your own country may not be applicable if the service is run from another country. Also be aware that these terms only affect your relationship to the provider of the service. Intelligence performed by authorities is a totally different thing and may break privacy promises given by the company, especially for services located in the US. The terms usually include a clause that grant the provider a license to do certain things with stuff the users upload. There’s a legitimate reason for this as the provider need to copy the data between servers and publish it in the agreed way. This Facebook debacle is really about the extent of these clauses. Ok, so what about Facebook’s new terms of service? Facebook claim they want to clarify the terms and make them easier to understand, which really isn't the full story. They have all the time been pretty intrusive regarding both privacy and intellectual property rights to your content, and the latest change is just one step on that path. Most of the recent stir is about people fearing that their photos etc. will be sold or utilized commercially in some other way. This is no doubt a valid concern with the new terms. Let’s first take a look at the importance of user content for Facebook. Many services, like newspapers, rely on user-provided content to an increasing extent. But Facebook is probably the ultimate example. All the content you see in Facebook is provided either by the users or by advertisers. None by Facebook itself. And their revenue is almost 8 billion US$ without creating any content themselves. Needless to say, the rights to use our content is important for them. What Facebook is doing now is ensuring that they have a solid legal base to build current and future business models on. But another thing of paramount importance to Facebook is the users' trust. This trust would be severely damaged if private photos start appearing in public advertisements. It would cause a significant change in peoples relationship with Facebook and decrease the volume of shared stuff, which is what Facebook lives on. This is why I am ready to believe Facebook when they promise to honor our privacy settings when utilizing user data. Let’s debunk two myths that are spread in the disclaimer. Facebook is *not* taking away the copyright to your stuff. Copyright is like ownership. What they do, and have done previously too, is to create a license that grant them rights to do certain things with your stuff. But you still own your data. The other myth is that a statement posted by users would have some kind of legal significance. No, it doesn’t. The terms of service are designed to be approved by using the service, anyone can opt to stop using Facebook and thus not be bound by the terms anymore. But the viral statements are just one-sided declarations that are in conflict with the mutually agreed contact. I’m not going to dig deeper into the changes as it would make this post long and boring. Instead I just link to an article with more info. But let’s share some numbers underlining why it is futile for ordinary mortals to even try to keep up with the terms. I browsed through Facebook’s set of terms just to find 10 different documents containing some kind of terms. And that’s just the stuff for ordinary users, I left out terms for advertisers, developers etc. Transferring the text from all these into MS Word gave 41 pages with a 10pt font, almost 18 000 words and about 108 000 characters. Quite a read! But the worst of all is that there’s no indication of which parts have changed. Anyone who still is surprised by the fact that users don’t read the terms? So it’s obvious that ordinary user really can’t keep up with terms like this. The most feasible way to deal with Facebook’s terms of service is to consider these 3 strategies and pick the one that suits you best. Keep using Facebook and don’t worry about how they make money with your data. Keep using Facebook but be mindful about what you upload. Use other services for content that might be valuable, like good photos or very private info. Quit Facebook. That’s really the only way to decline their terms of service. By the way, my strategy is number 2 in the above list, as I have explained in a previous post. That’s like ignoring the terms, expecting the worst possible treatment of your data and posting selectively with that in mind. One can always put valuable stuff on some other service and post a link in Facebook. So posting the viral disclaimer is futile, but I disagree with those who say it’s bad and it shouldn’t be done. It lacks legal significance but is an excellent way to raise awareness. Part of the problem with unbalanced terms is that nobody cares about them. A higher level of awareness will make people think before posting, put some pressure on providers to make the terms more balanced, and make the legislators more active, thus improving the legal framework that control these services. The legislation is by the way our most important defense line as it is created by a more neutral part. The legislator should, at least in theory, balance the companies’ and end users’ interests in a fair way.   Safe surfing, Micke   Image: Screenshot from facebook.com

Dec 3, 2014
BY 
privacy settings twitter

It’s time to check your Twitter ‘Security and privacy’ settings

When it comes to privacy, Twitter's simplicity has always been its key advantage. Your tweets are public or they are protected. Of course, this implicit agreement with users has never been that simple. "Protected" tweets turned out to be searchable -- they aren't anymore. And if one of your followers decides to share your tweets through a manual retweet or a screenshot, you're just as exposed as you would be if your tweets were public. But that's true of any form of digital -- or real world -- communication. Now, Twitter is getting even more complicated to become in hopes of becoming as mainstream as Facebook, which is trying to improve the revelancy of its feed in order to replace Twitter as the go-to online destination for monitoring breaking news. You may have noticed that Twitter's is slowly rolling out changes to its web experience that may alter the way people understand the service. Tweets that have been favorited but not retweeted by people you follow may show up in your stream. More changes like location-based alerts and native video will soon follow. The closer-to-original Twitter experience still exists -- and will likely always exist -- in apps like Tweetdeck. But no matter how you use the service, your activity on and off the site is being tracked to improve outcomes for advertisers. This makes sense. It is a business and since you're not paying to use this valuable service, you are its product -- even if you're using the site for business. By offering tools like its free analytics, the site is striving to make it clear how useful it is and build good will as it evolves. However, Twitter recognizes that its users just may want to avoid allowing more "big data" tentacles into our digital brains. Thus it allows you to opt out of some tracking and features that may feel invasive. Here's how to do that: Go to your "Security and privacy" section of your Settings. Scroll all the way down. If you're interested in maximum privacy, I recommend your uncheck the three boxes at the bottom of the page -- Discoverability, Personalization and Promoted Content -- then click "Save changes". While you're on this page, make sure you're taking advantage of Twitter's best security tool: Login verification. Turn on two-factor authentication by activating "Send login verification requests to my phone". Twitter's biggest security problem is that everyone in the world knows your login. Unless you turn on Login verification, all an intruder needs is your password. You may also want to make sure "Tweet location" is off and erase all of your previous locations, if you're worried about being tracked in the real world. One last thing while you're checking your settings, click on Apps. Then "Revoke access" of any you're not using. Not sure if you're not using an app? Get rid of it and you can always renew its access later. Cheers, Jason [Image courtesy of Rosaura Ochoa via Flickr.]

Dec 1, 2014
BY