5 Reasons Why Our Online Privacy is a Thing of the Past

Online Privacy is often a hot topic. With the recent Edward Snowden revelations that governments are listening to phone calls, reading text messages and watching your online activity, all while recording your every move online. On top of all of this, it’s all being done legally. But it’s just governments who are doing this, it’s also big corporations who collect meta-data for advertising, tracking and monitoring. Here’s 5 reasons why your online privacy is a thing of the past:

1. Governments are Watching your Every Move

In June 2013, an ex-contractor for America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) named Edward Snowden leaked numerous confidential documents about how Governments all around the world are spying on their citizens. These leaks included program code named “Tailored Access Operations” (TAO). According to the Snowden revelations, “TAO is an elite team of hackers who are able to hack into computers worldwide, and infect the systems with malware when conventional access to the system is unavailable. TAO is also used to gather more specific and detailed information about a target when other surveillance programs are unable to”.

Back home, Australia just passed a law which requires Australian Internet Service Providers (ISP) to retain customer metadata for a minimum period of two years. The bill named “Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2015” requires Australia ISPs to store data including names and addresses; date, time, and duration of communications; the recipient of communications; and the location of equipment used for communications, including cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots. According to Cnet.Com, The bill was passed to address growing national security concerns, although it gives police powers to investigate a large spectrum of crimes, not just ones involving national security.

With governments being able to watch everything you do, how can we be certain that a bored employee will not violate his employment agreement and spy on what you’ve been searching or leak that information. This can create a predominant black market where hackers can sell information about citizens to cyber criminals, organised crime syndicates and malicious hackers. The buyer would then be able to do anything they chose with your data.

2. Biometrics

Governments are constantly looking for more ways to track, identify and find people using more efficient and accurate methods. Biometrics is one of their answers. Biometric security techniques involve facial recognition software, fingerprint scanning, voice recognition and retina scanners. In the latest apple phone, a fingerprint scanner can be used to unlock the phone. Voice recognition software can be used to control the phone. In some Android devices, eye tracking technology tracks if you are looking at the phone, and where you are looking to scroll down pages and turn off your device if you move or close your eyes. Now most people think these features will assist them and make their life easier, but they post huge privacy concerns. When you first use your fingerprint to unlock your Apple device, a hash is used to uniquely identify your fingerprint without revealing it. But if Apple or a malicious hacker were to implement a secret backdoor into your product, it could be exposed immediately. This can allow your fingerprint to be sold online, and if a hacker chose to, they could create a 3D print out of your fingerprint and possible commit identity theft with your stolen fingerprint.

3. Location Tracking

Location tracking is becoming more common with each new technology device which hits the market. iPhone users are encouraged by Apple to use the “Find My iPhone” software which tracks your mobile phone whenever your location services are turned on. This software is meant to assist consumers in finding their iPhone when it is lost or stolen and can aide law enforcement in cases of theft. Although this software has countless benefits, it can be used for the wrong purposes. This software can be used to track someone while they are going about their everyday business. The software constantly records locations visited, what time they are visited and even creates a list of most commonly visited places and your most common time to visit that certain place. If a criminal were to access this information, he could analyse your habits and your routine. They would then be able to find the best time to break into your house or commit other crimes.

4. Personal Data Stored by Websites

Facebook, YouTube and Google are among the top most visited websites daily. They are where we connect with friends, catch up on daily news and events, and even seek assistance. But often, people do not know the extent of the data which is being stored by these companies. Facebook is often the first place an employer will look when they have received a new resume. People also often post anything online, including photos, status updates, current jobs, current relationship statuses, holiday updates and even photos of their current location. Often, these updates are made on mobile devices with location services still on. Unbeknownst to them, Facebook records all of this data and stores it in their database. Law enforcement agencies have also caught criminals who posted information on Facebook. In 2009, a New York man failed to show up for court following a bar fight. Police were able to track the man after he posted his current location, place of employment and even his work hours on his Facebook page. The general public has to be aware of what data they post online.

5. Targeted Advertising Software

Targeted Advertising Software is used a way to get ads which are more relevant to the consumer in order to increase product sales. Targeted Advertising Software is most commonly used by Google and YouTube to deliver ads which are relevant to the consumer. This software analyses the links you click, websites you visit and your browsing habits in order to deliver you meaningful ads. This software has the capability to follow you around certain websites if used by Google or YouTube. But if this software is used by your ISP, it can follow you to any website you visit. It can analyse your browsing habits including times you use the internet, how often you visit a webpage and what you purchase online. In 2012, Forbes magazine reported on a story where a father found out his daughter, who was still in high school at the time, was pregnant after Target sent his daughter coupons in the mail. Targets advertising algorithm detected the young girl was pregnant and acted accordingly by sending coupons for baby clothes. If a major retailer is able to detect if someone is pregnant before their own family knows, does anyone still have any privacy?

How to Protect Your Privacy

Protecting privacy online is a difficult task. Although you may not be able to prevent the NSA from collecting your data using their TAO program, you can make it as difficult as possible by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or a Proxy server which, although will slow internet speed, will protect your IP address online. If you are using a VPN or Proxy, your ISP will be unable to see which websites you are accessing. Biometrics are also hard to avoid, but you can turn off your Touch Id fingerprint scanner on your iPhone to prevent the possible identity theft using your fingerprint. If you aim to prevent location tracking, you are able to turn off the location services on your phone and computer. Using this technique will prevent your device from monitoring your location. In order to protect yourself from data collection by websites, always read the terms and conditions of their privacy policy. If you have to accept the privacy policy, use an alternate email address without you real information. In order to avoid targeted advertising software, advertising blocking software can be installed on your web browser to remove ads and web cookies should be disabled.

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