5 Reasons Why Online Privacy is a Thing of the Past

Over the past 50 years we have seen an enormous advancement in computer technologies. This machinery has allowed us access to a higher level of knowledge through the invention of the internet. Everyday hundreds of people are signing up to different forms of internet subscriptions, varying from social media to online newsstands. However a majority are unaware of the risks associated with sharing personal details and the growing rate at which privacy is becoming a thing of the past.

Cookie Proliferation

The invisible cookie software agents that track your browsing habits and personal data have been on the rise for a number of years now, and are spreading at a rate comparable to the black plague. The problem faced around these 'cookies' are that they were originally designed as an identification code and meaningless to the computer user however nowadays they can infect a computer and scan for all different types of details. From there your details may be distributed among other websites and you may have directed advertisements pop up on the side of web pages that focus on most searched for topics in your browsing history. Internet cookies still cannot be classed as viruses though because all they are doing are monitoring your search history, however doing so is most definitely a breach of privacy. “Five to ten years ago, if you opened NYT.com in your browser, you’d get a cookie from the New York Times, maybe a couple, and that would basically be it,” says staff technologist Dan Auerbach of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Today you get probably on the order of 50 cookies from all sorts of third parties: ad servers, data brokers, trackers. They can build up this big profile about your browsing history.” The worst part, says EFF’s Auerbach: “It’s totally invisible to users. They have no idea what’s happening.” (Dan Auerbach, 2013).

Seizing Cloud Data

Being able to access your files from any computer in the world does seem like a great idea however what stops others from accessing your files too? The concept of cloud storage has been around for a while now however has only risen in popularity in recent years. The cloud is practically a storage device only available on the internet. Once a file is uploaded to the cloud it is available to be shared with your chosen contacts however it is also shared with the cloud owners. Not only are they shared but everything that gets stored in a server, now belongs to them, not to you. But the biggest breach of privacy is not from the cloud creators but the law enforcement agencies requesting this data, not on particular people but on the entire cloud so they can monitor and track everyone's uploads. “The only true protection is to understand that anything you put up there can be accessed by somebody else,” says Consumer Watchdog’s Simpson. “If you don’t want that to happen, don’t put it in the cloud.” (Forbes, 2012)

Location Tracking

In the video above, facts are displayed about the quantity of details that are shared openly with the rest of the world and then they are positively spun to suggest buying a tracking system that will increase the growth of a company by finding out consumer details. However anyone watching this will still ponder this idea and think "wait are they suggesting that any company with this program can track my movements on the web, why would I want that". But the truth is, there's nowhere in the world where someone cannot be found, whether it's by the means of online location tracking or government traffic cams. It's sad that we cannot even use a mobile phone without the possibility of another listening in on the conversation. Unfortunately there isn't an awful lot we can do about this breach of privacy seeing the laws around it aren't too stringent, much similar to those of the laws around cloud storage. The only solution to this threat would be to turn off all devices that emit these signals (social media alerts, texts, game alerts, anything connected to the internet or a phone tower).

Data never forgets a face

Posting and tagging photos online may feel like innocent fun, but behind the scenes it helps build a facial recognition database that makes escaping notice increasingly difficult for anyone. “Most consumers are already in the largest facial recognition database in the world, and that’s Facebook,” says EFF's Lynch. "Indeed the immense quantity of photos uploaded to Facebook makes it the poster child—or rather, giant—for the privacy issues surrounding this technology." (Lynch, 2009). Social media and as mentioned Facebook, as the kingpin of this operation, has established an enormous online database containing this photo data. This would not be a problem if Facebook used this data strictly to help find other friends however Facebook tends to sell user data to third parties which may also include facial data. This is wrong right? Well you agreed to this policy when signing up to this social giant. This problem is only to get worse in the future with the advancements of high definition cameras and artificial intelligence, who knows, maybe one day even our unique facial features will be subject to identity theft.

Identity Theft

Identity theft is a growing risk in our world, and it's only getting easier with personal details flying around helplessly on the web. Not only are names and birth dates being flaunted around but credit card details and passport credentials too, once someone takes control of these what are you to do, they have stolen everything important to identify you. How hackers take control of these details are known as phishing scams and are usually sent to their victim via email, social media adverts and fake competition surveys. Not surprisingly many fall victim to these scams as they are getting more and more believable. Emails saying that "someone has logged into your bank account, if this was not you, login here", and providing a fake bank website. Another scam is where an advertisement says you can "make a million dollars a year working from home, all you need to do is buy this simple booklet that tells you how", then to have your whole bank account emptied. However there is an easy way to avoid these scams and that's just to know the warning signs and stay well clear of clicking on anything.

Solutions to the threats

According to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, "Privacy is no longer a social norm" (Guardian, 2010). But until the United Nations declares this to the world, we are forced to believe that we should have the rights to privacy, this includes online privacy. But how are we to protect ourselves from the pressing matters? Social media is only getting stronger and are free to change their privacy policies without even informing the users. Online cookies and location software have a constant stream of where everyone is at anytime. And identities are being stolen daily with the help of facial recognition software. So I ask again, what can we do? and the answer is nothing. There are those who are lucky and haven't given in to the online craze however for most of us we can only play it safe and avoid the scams, run constant virus scans and be smart when posting on social media sites. But the fact is, privacy is a thing of the past.