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Online Privacy – Are You Really Protected?

Online Privacy – Are You Really Protected?

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“A 20-year-old woman stalked via the Internet and killed. Thousands of e-commerce customers watching as their credit card numbers are sold online for $1 apiece. Internet chat rooms – where identities are bought, sold and traded.”

What you just read are examples cited by Bob Sullivan from MSNBC, of the many ways in which one’s privacy is violated online. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

There are many ways that a person’s privacy can be invaded. One of the scariest stories is that of the 20-year-old mentioned at the beginning, who was brutally murdered by a man she didn’t know. Amy Boyer’s killer, Liam Youens , who killed himself minutes after he shot Amy, had been cyber-stalking her for years according to officials. Authorities found a website on his computer dedicated just to Amy and it provided details of how he had fallen in love with her in high school, but because she rejected him, he decided she had to die.

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Youens tracked her down by buying information such as her social security number, the name of her employer and her work address online and then made his move.

Since Amy’s murder, major steps and preventative measures have been taken to prevent such transactions (selling personal information) from taking place online. Preventative measures have included the passing of certain privacy laws worldwide. Privacy laws vary according to country and sometimes even within countries. In Europe, the safety of its citizens is treated very seriously and this is underscored by the Data Protection Directive which states that

“Personal data can only be gathered legally under strict conditions, for a legitimate purpose. Furthermore, persons or organisations which collect and manage your personal information must protect it from misuse and must respect certain rights of the data owners which are guaranteed by EU law. The law also foresees specific rules for the transfer of personal data outside the EU to ensure the best possible protection of data when it is exported abroad”.

In the United States, California’s Privacy Rights for California Minors in the Digital World Act, also called the “eraser” bill (to be effective on January 1, 2015), will “permit minors to remove, or to request and obtain removal of, content or information posted on an Internet website, online service, online application, or mobile application. It also prohibits an operator of a Web site or online service directed to minors from marketing or advertising to minors specified products or services that minors are legally prohibited from buying. The law also prohibits marketing or advertising certain products based on personal information specific to a minor or knowingly using, disclosing, compiling, or allowing a third party to do so”.

With all these laws in place, the question is are you really still safe online? Is full protection from harm – whether physical or virtual – achievable?

Many nations and international organisations believe that each person online should be protected and we couldn’t agree more. The UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay made a valid point when she mentioned in an interview that Internet privacy is just as important as human rights, but we wonder, can it be achieved with just the implementation of privacy laws?

Now, persons can and may protect their privacy online through controlled disclosure of certain information; willingly leaving out more personal details. However, there are those who sometimes disclose more than they should, without even realizing it. If you think about it, the second you decide to sign up for Internet service, your identification is already disclosed to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Even when you sign up for a social media account, certain information is stored and you really cannot escape disclosing what you do unless you decide to provide false information.

Another example of how your personal information is at risk is with e-commerce. The e-commerce business continues to evolve and persons are no longer required to go shopping in an actual store. All the stores are right at the tip of their fingers; just a click and a credit card away. All this information and more, is being stored online.

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A thought to consider – Let’s say one day you decide you don’t want to have certain information on the Internet anymore; you want to erase certain details from the web that relates to you and your life. It may not be as easy as you think.

Organisations such as Facebook and Google often collect data from its users on a daily basis and that information is kept, even when you deactivate your social media accounts. What exactly is it being kept and used for? Nobody really knows the full answer to that. What we do know is that the data is still available and is accessible to anyone who knows how to gain access.

The bottom line is, as long as you have a computer and it is connected to a network or the Internet, you will be vulnerable to someone or something else accessing or corrupting your information. Therefore, all that’s left to do is to be more careful online, whether privacy laws exist or not. Here are a few tips to help protect you and your information:

  • Look for signals that you are using a secure web page. A secure site encrypts or scrambles personal information so it cannot be easily intercepted. Signals include a screen notice that says you are on a secure site, a closed lock or unbroken key in the bottom corner of your screen, or the first letters of the Internet address you are viewing changes from “http” to “https.”
  • To be really secure, disconnect your computer from the Internet when you are not using it.
  • Utilise a firewall. Firewalls can block intruders by looking for suspicious words, domain names or IP addresses. This is a must-have because it repels unauthorized transmissions from accessing your computer.
  • Don’t rely on a computer to remember your passwords. Do not check options such as “Yes, this a computer I use often” or “Remember the log-in/password information on this site” unless you want your information stored

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