The first international treaty on data protection and privacy, Convention 108, was signed in 1981. Every year, this event is commemorated on January 28, which is Data Privacy Day.
Data Privacy Month also starts on this date. It is an effort to educate and empower people to control their online footprint, protect their privacy, and make privacy protection a bigger priority.
The internet was originally used to enable information exchange between computers. It was not intended for personal use. It was used for official work and accessed from an employer or a school’s computer. Email was the only somewhat personal service, but its use for personal communication was not encouraged.
In the early days, there was nothing to protect personal information from. The internet only became less safe after personal computers were taken mainstream. Harassment, fraud, and other risks increased after people started using the internet for personal communication and commercial transactions.
Feeling you have some control over your privacy can be sufficient in some cases. You don’t want to share where you bank, where you live, where you go on holiday, or anything about your personal habits, but you might have no problem leaving your real name on blog posts or comments. You are active on Facebook, and you use an online service to buy your vacation packages. When you come back from holiday, you post pictures on Facebook.
Oversharing things online carries some serious risks, such as slander, bullying, and stalking. The biggest threat is probably identity theft.
It’s all about risk at the end of the day. You wouldn’t share anything online that might put you in jail if it were found out. Likewise, don’t share anything that can lead to domestic issues or job loss.
Facebook, Google, and other online giants collect data to make money. They collect information about internet users online, both as individuals and segments of the population, without applying any obviously invasive strategies.
By tracking the websites people visit and the search terms they use, companies can send targeted ads for specific products or services. Direct marketing firms buy information collected from data aggregators like people search sites.
Every Facebook user is familiar with the “suggested for you” feature, where you buy something online, then get suggestions about similar items to buy.
Last but not least, state agencies can get information about you from your digital footprint. They can subpoena data collectors and use law enforcement teams to this end.
While it’s not impossible to be anonymous online, there’s never any guarantee for it. You need to know what data is used to track someone. Among the pieces of information to hide are the media access control address, cookies, and IP addresses, because they can point to your identity.
The privacy-enabled browser Tor ensures the anonymity of the communication source, which is your network or computer, and the destination, a server, or a website. Tor is used for online communications in countries whose governments limit internet access.
However, this browser only protects unencrypted traffic until it reaches an exit node. Some entities operate Tor exit nodes to attack people who are using those.
Browser cookies come in two varieties: those that allow ad tracking and those that help sites work. The latter variety is retained on sites with ordinary internet browsing, so a previously visited site will remember your preferences.
Cookies that allow ad tracking and monetization tell ad companies about your online preferences, the sites you visited, the links you clicked on, how you got to those sites, and where you went after that.
You disarm this cookie type in “privacy” or “incognito” mode. As you browse the web, cookies work as expected. When your web browsing session ends, the cookies are deleted.
Using DuckDuckGo or another private search engine is also an option. When you use such a search engine, the browser doesn’t retain or track logs of the websites you visit. DuckDuckGo comes in a package with Tor.
You can also use a plugin like Disconnect to stop your online movements from being tracked.
All of the above options to protect privacy necessitate a certain degree of technical expertise. An IT professional can help communicate the best practices for privacy and security while browsing. Ultimately, what you post online stays online forever. This is worth keeping in mind.