Given recent revelations about the NSA’s spying on U.S. citizens, what once seemed truly paranoid now appears to be entirely plausible.
Protecting our privacy on the Internet is no longer a matter we can leave to chance — or ignore. The cost is simply too high.
Few can doubt that the privacy we enjoyed just a few years ago is no longer possible — especially as it applies to our online activities. We are increasingly dependent on the Web for our entertainment, communications, social life, business networking, and financial management. And to facilitate those online activities, we provide more and more personal information to organizations for which our privacy is not necessarily in their best interest. Facebook and LinkedIn, for example, are predicated on collecting and sharing as much personal information as we allow.
That “we allow” is important. Much of our privacy is lost because we let online organizations collect information about us. But perhaps even more privacy is lost because we willingly — or at least passively — hand over that information. A Forbes story, “Never give stores your ZIP code. Here’s why,” details a case in point. The same advice applies to your phone number, as noted in the Yahoo story, “Two reasons to never give your phone number out on the Internet.”
Given the recent reports of government spy programs, cyber thieves acquiring customer data from major corporations, and the often opaque privacy changes on social-media sites, it could seem that the truly paranoid have been vindicated — well, not entirely. For the rest of us, being at least somewhat paranoid is now a survival tactic. We need to think twice when someone requests any of our personal information.
Caution is especially warranted for the stuff we share on social-networking sites. For example, in her Top Story, “Tips for traveling with digital devices,” Susan Bradley cautions against posting your travel plans on Facebook and other social sites. She also mentions the benefits of using a virtual private network (VPN) service when traveling. (More on that below.) A Rutgers University site provides some helpful tips on staying secure while traveling.
Pushing users toward a universal sign-in
Privacy advocates have also voiced concerns about the use of social networks. Currently, over a billion people have Facebook accounts. More and more sites now allow you to sign in with your Facebook credentials. That’s just an extraordinarily bad idea for two reasons (and there are undoubtedly more).