The internet is no longer a safe place for your browsing history and personal data. An increasing number of internet users realize that no company or entity is ready to take care of their personal information. And if they don’t take the right steps, online privacy stands to become a thing of the past.
No one should need any more evidence that search engines—the dominant players in collecting personally identifiable information—and other third parties such as online services and apps won’t do anything to protect users’ private data.
Any internet user who thinks companies will automatically keep their personal information private and user data safe must read more about how careless search engine providers and social networking sites are with sensitive data.
That is why internet users need to protect their internet connection and IP addresses with the help of privacy tools such as VPN services. These services stop unauthorized access to the user’s computer and hide the user’s IP address in the process. Consequently, it becomes harder for hackers to gain access to the user’s private information.
What Is Internet Privacy? Is It the Same As Personal Privacy?
Online privacy (which, for practical purposes, is the same as internet privacy) deals with user information and how it should be kept private while you roam the world of cyberspace.
Such data includes any personal information, including financial details and bank account numbers, medical records, browsing habits and search history data, among many other things.
It goes without saying that due to the developments of the last decade or so, digital privacy has become a growing concern, especially for people who spend a lot of their time in the online world using social network platforms and taking part in online activities that may require sensitive information.
Surprisingly enough, even though cases of identity theft, weak data privacy laws, regular data breaches, malicious software distribution, firms selling data without the user’s consent and constant monitoring of the user’s internet address and internet traffic data, a good portion of the online public still does not know how to protect their computer privacy online or how serious they should get about privacy and security.
In short, internet privacy is about giving online users the tools they need to control the data they generate during a given browsing session.
Privacy Risks Are Real and Privacy Concerns Must Be Addressed
In this section, we will talk more about how online privacy is a serious concern and how data leaks and breaches can cause scores of problems if they fall into the wrong hands.
First, data privacy is almost as important as your physical privacy when you are in the physical world carrying out your daily activities. In the digital world, that translates to your conversations having confidentiality on various social media sites and any other form of electronic communication. Online users must be able to secure their own privacy when carrying out sensitive tasks through legitimate website services.
Note:Readers need to understand that any online service provider offering a product for free is probably engaging in user tracking. Services like Gmail and social networks like Facebook use a plethora of other techniques to gather user data. This has become a major concern among privacy advocates.
In fact, just visiting some social media websites, even in the private browsing tab, means the user has to give up some internet privacy. Of course, how much internet privacy users have to give up when visiting an internet service is dependent on the service itself—some gather more data than others.
Similar to filling out an offline application form, online users don’t have much control over the amount of personal information they have to give up to use different services. It is even harder for them to know more about how a given platform is using their personal information.
Moreover, ensuring data privacy and security becomes even harder when it comes to search engines because they might share that data with other internet services. So, even if one service is doing something about internet privacy, the firm it is sharing personal information with may not.
That is yet another reason to take online privacy more seriously. Modern online users are more aware of how internet hacking activity can compromise their data. But they are less informed when it comes to other data security-compromising mechanisms that normal services use.
Services today show users targeted ads and process their search history with the use of an object embedded into their web browsers called internet cookies (we’ll talk more about internet cookies shortly).
This conveniently leads us to our next section, covering internet privacy issues every reader should know about.
Most Common Internet Privacy Issues
As mentioned before, internet tracking is a huge problem for users who browse the web on a daily basis to get their tasks done. Using tracking techniques, online services show users targeted ads. The firms behind these ads follow users all over the internet when they visit different websites and use search engine platforms.
As e-commerce continues to grow, tech companies now know more about a given online user than ever before. This allows them to generate a profile of those users. Cookies further help them profile and track user activities.
It is true that some online users are not bothered by targeted ads. But for others, such a situation amounts to an invasion of privacy.
Anyone living in the U.S. knows that government authorities have spent billions on surveillance programs over the years. These surveillance programs primarily spy on online users and collect information on what they do on the internet.
Law enforcement entities argue that this practice helps them catch bad actors who try to harm society through their activities on both the traditional web and the dark web.
In this regard, the U.K. is a world leader with its surveillance programs and laws. In 2016, the country passed the Investigatory Power Act, which authorized the government to use mass surveillance technologies to monitor online traffic (and hence invade online privacy).
This is important:Third parties such as telecommunication companies and internet service providers have to keep a record of the user’s personal data for up to a year, per the law. If the government suspects some internet hacking activity, it can ask services to give up the data.
Cases of identity theft have only increased over the past several years; hackers are now able to use multiple data compromising techniques to steal personal information and invade people’s online privacy.
Three of the most common types of attacks hackers use to invade internet privacy are malware, spyware and phishing.
We should make a special mention of a technique known as pharming. Using this technique, hackers can exploit a DNS server and redirect traffic from a perfectly legitimate website to a malicious one. Sometimes, they achieve the same by modifying host files that exist on the victim’s computer.
Best Ways To Protect Your Internet Privacy
Here, we’ll share a few best practices you can adopt to protect your online privacy and security.
Use a Reputable Web Browser
Since you can’t go online without using a web browser, you should make sure it comes from a trusted source and is secure.
Pro Tip:Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, along with Opera and Vivaldi, are the top choices you should stick with. Although, we should mention that Google Chrome has come under scrutiny in the past for its data collection.
Use a VPN
A VPN (or virtual private network) will hide your real IP address. Without your real IP address, hackers will find it much harder to find you. Moreover, with no real IP address to work with, you can’t become a victim of a botnet or DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack.
Install Privacy Browser Extensions
These include ad-blockers and antivirus plug-ins. Apart from that, some other extensions you can use to secure your internet privacy include Privacy Badger and/or Disconnect. If you use Mozilla Firefox, check out our roundup of the top privacy add-ons on Firefox.
Use Strong Passwords
Simply put, don’t use dictionary words or a combination of complete words/phrases as your passwords. Do not use simple or short passwords.
Use Security Pins
This tip applies to both desktop computers and mobile devices. You don’t have to use the longest security pin there is, but you should use a sufficiently long one.
Pro Tip:An additional advantage of using security pins is that they grant you protection from physical privacy-invading attempts as well, such as your colleague or roommate trying to look into your computer or phone.
Use a Search Engine That Doesn’t Compromise Your Internet Privacy
You can continue to use Google to get work done. But try to give other search engine services a chance as well. A very good privacy-friendly option is DuckDuckGo, but there are others on the market too.
Be Careful When Reading Your Emails
If you try to reply to a legitimate-looking email without paying attention to the sender’s actual email address, you are setting yourself up for more privacy troubles.
Spammers, cybercriminals, web bots and other malicious pieces of code know that most people don’t pay attention to the sender of the email—especially if the name of the sender sounds familiar.
If a hacker gets hold of your friend’s email and then sends a malicious message to you from that email address, you will get caught in the trap and end up losing your personal data or whatever sensitive information you have stored in your email storage space.
Hackers can and will exploit your personal information to harass you (for example, by revealing your political views or sexual orientation without your consent to the public) and trick you into giving up your banking details.
Pro Tip:To avoid that, it is always best to contact the person sending the email if the matter is important enough. If it is not, then it never hurts to ignore the message.
Conclusion: Internet Users and Their Personal Data
You should always consider internet privacy as your right. Of course, as with any other right, you may have to fight a bit at times to make sure online service providers don’t exploit it.
If you follow some of the tips we have mentioned in this guide, and you’re aware of all the ways internet companies can infringe on your privacy, you can prepare yourself better to protect your personal data.