Protect My Online Privacy

Protect My Online Privacy

In a time where it is common and acceptable to share a wealth of personal information on the Internet, it is also important to understand how to protect your privacy when using the Internet. There are a number of smart decisions you can make to ensure that your privacy and personal information are never compromised online. It is vital to protect your information, not only from insecure websites, but also from people who want to take your information or learn things about you. As a young person who grew up in the age of the Internet, I have experienced first-hand many Internet privacy issues.

Facebook Privacy

A major concern for young adults today regarding online privacy relates to the employment process. Many employers use Google and Facebook searches to find out about job applicants’ personal lives during the application process. Facebook privacy is the most important online privacy issue for young people today. It is important that you keep up-to-date with Facebook’s privacy settings, as Facebook often changes these settings in ways that can be somewhat confusing to users. The issue that most often plagues young people when employers gain access to their Facbeook profiles is the pictures that they can see. You might want your friends to see pictures of how much fun you had on spring break in Cancun, but do you really want your potential employers to see pictures of you taking tequila shots in a bathing suit? It might be better to keep these pictures off of Facebook in the first place and share them with your friends using a password-protected photo-sharing website, such as Flickr.

Another issue regarding Facebook is the personal information that you may convey without even realizing it. Often times when you upload a picture from a smartphone, a location is added to it. You could be giving away the location of your home or work to the public, and if this information gets into the wrong hands, you may regret it. Be wary of the small details that could end up being harmful to your personal privacy from strangers who can access your information on the Internet.


Internet Browsing Privacy

Aside from Facebook privacy issues, there are other factors concerning privacy in various other aspects of your online life. Many websites and software programs track your browsing history through cookies so that advertisers can target advertisements towards you. For instance, the other day I Googled a particular brand of jeans and visited their website, and now there is always an advertisement for that brand of jeans on the side of my browser. Social networks, particularly Facebook, keep users logged in as much as possible so they can gather information about their browsing activity so they can target advertisements towards them. So what can you do to prevent this as much as possible? First off, remember to log out of Facebook whenever you are not using it. Second, there are a variety of apps you can download that help you protect your online privacy, such as Disconnect, which is a browser extension that prevents third parties from tracking your activity around the Web. Another app that prevents the user from tracking cookies, spam and viruses is Cocoon, which offers high protection for a small fee each month. Investigate some of these services and find which ones are right for you in protecting your Internet privacy.


Online Shopping Security

As a female, I do a lot of shopping online, which I do with a credit card. Identity theft is common through the Internet, so before entering any credit card information, be sure that the website you are using is secure. You can look at the top of your browser to be sure the URL starts with “https” instead of “http.” There should also be an icon of a lock at the top of your URL if the website you are using is indeed secure. If you have any doubts about a website’s security, do not take any chances! Opt out of using a sketchy website entirely. Your personal information and privacy are not worth risking, even for a cute pair of shoes or a discount purse that you found in the depths of the Internet.

Aside from paying a website directly with your credit card, some websites, such as eBay, allow you to directly pay a seller of an item. This is usually done through PayPal, and while most eBay transactions are secure, it is best to always check user reviews of a seller before committing to any transactions. Always use your best judgment in any situation where your personal information is at stake.


General Tips

There are many scams that people attempt through personal e-mails. Known as “phishing scams,” people attempt to ask for money by saying they are in a desperate situation in the hopes that a kind stranger will pity them by sending them their credit card information. Never, EVER send your credit card or any other personal information to someone over the Internet whom you do not know. There are secure ways to send money via the Internet, through websites such as PayPal, but regardless of the method, you should never send any information to a stranger. Here is an example of an actual e-mail I received from a stranger:

I really don’t mean to inconvenience you, I tried to call but I don’t have access to the phone and internet service is intermittent. I misplaced my bag containing my passport and credit cards on a trip in the United Kingdom. I know this may seem strange, but everything happened very quickly.

My funds are exhausted, and I need to pay for a new passport fees and other miscellaneous expenses. Could you please lend me some funds? I’ll pay when I get home …

Please do respond, so that I can submit my details to send money via western union.

I await your response. 

This is clearly a scam. The proper thing to do if you receive one of these emails is to mark it as spam and delete it. If you are uncertain if an e-mail is spam, it is best to err on the side of caution and not take any actions whatsoever. 

Overall, Internet privacy is a serious matter that should not be taken lightly. With so much of our personal information out there on the Web, it is vital that you are in control of the information you wish to share with others. Whether that is putting your home address on your public Facebook page, or opting out of having Facebook entirely, how you choose to protect yourself online is entirely up to you. It is important, however, that you make smart and informed decisions when it comes to protecting yourself online.