Protecting Your Privacy while Online

February 1, 2012

With all the talk about SOPA, VPPA, PIPA and all the other anti-piracy measures being pushed by the various special interest groups and big media conglomerates it is easy to forget how many of these companies make their money by using your information, either for themselves or selling it to 3rd parties.

Shouldn't you have more control over how your information is being used?

Cookies, scripts, automatic opt-ins and dozen of other methods are used on a daily basis to figure out who you are, what you like, what age, gender, religion, political views, bra size, waist line, favourite beer.........the list is endless.
Cookies can track which pages you load, which ads you click on etc and then share this information
with other members of affiliated groups to create a bigger picture of who you are.
Companies like Facebook & Google change their privacy policy on a near regular basis and despite their various press releases on the reasons why essentially it boils down to one reason: advertising revenue.

So what, as an end user, can you do to minimise the amount of information you inadvertently share?

1. Firstly, STOP entering your personal information on every site you visit!! Set up aliase email addresses, names etc if you need to register for a service.

2. Check security settings on pages you are entering personal infrormaiton on. Such as SSL certificates, "HttpS" before any page which professes to be secure.

3. Browser Add-Ons:

Google Chrome
  • Ghostery -  Ghostery sees the "invisible" web, detecting trackers, web bugs, pixels, and beacons placed on web pages by Facebook, Google Analytics, and over 500 other ad networks, behavioral data providers, web publishers - all companies interested in your activity. Ghostery allows you to block scripts from companies that you don't trust and even block images and iframes.
  • Google Analytics Opt-Out -The add-on communicates with the Google Analytics JavaScript (ga.js) to indicate that information about the website visit should not be sent to Google Analytics.
  • I Like Privacy - Replaces Facebook Likebuttons on websites with a local copy, which helps hinder Facebook keeping track of you. In order to 'Like' a page, you can simply click the copy to load the original.
  • IBA Opt-Out -  you can permanently opt out of the DoubleClick cookie, which is an advertising cookie that Google uses.
  • Keep my Opt-Outs -  Permanently opts your browser out of online ad personalization via cookies.
  • No Likie - Similar to 'I Like Privacy' it blocks Facebook following what pages you visit.
  • Protect My Choices - Industry led initiative which lets you make choices in how advertising cookies work on your browser.
  • Ad-Block Plus - While this does not protect your privacy, it might save your sanity. Ad blocker does what is says on the tin: blocks adverts appearing on website. Particularly good for those sites which have flashing poker, dating or other annoying adverts.

  • Taco - Blocks web beacons, bugs and other tracking technologies
  • PrivacyChoice  Trackerblock Full control over what tracking cookies can be installed. It blocks over 500 advertising companies
  • Ghostery - As above
  • Ad-Block -  As Above
  • Priv3 - blocks social networks tracking you.

I haven't used Internet Explorer in over 3 years so I'm not sure what are the best Add-Ons but many of the above are available on IE 8 & 9.

For those who use mobile devices to access social media sites (which 85% of us apparently does) there are other concerns including geo-location tagging i.e. where you are located and other personally identifiable information. Make sure whatever privacy settings are available on your handset are used. On the iphone, for example, knock off location services.
To reiterate my point above, only share what you are comfortable with others knowing. If you are happy to tell a complete stranger on a bus your favourite film, where you live, age, marital status etc then work network was made for you! For the rest of us, we need to constantly evaluate what information we share and keep some sort of control over it.