How To Keep Your Junk Private On The Internet
The recent release of ill-gotten celebrity nude pics caused an uproar around Interwebs and office coolers worldwide. Large-scale hacking is one thing, but every day there’s a new story of someone’s privacy being violated by the Internet, either through intentional maliciousness, accidental posting, or simple ignorance of the public nature of digital information.
While most of us aren’t celebrities with bodies worth viewing nude, the Internet is still a dangerous place - even information that seems innocuous should be protected just as carefully as naked photos. To help you do just that, we have compiled this list* of privacy threats and what you can do to combat them (in no particular order).
1) Internet security is hard
Yeah. It’s confusing. Using your browser’s “private browsing” mode doesn’t really keep your information private. A website that proudly proclaims it encrypts saved passwords might transmit passwords unencrypted before storing them in a database. A company you trust might sell your information to a company you wouldn’t. Confusing.
What to do?
Familiarize yourself with security best practices and if a stranger asks if you want some Internet candy-- say no. The US government has a page to help de-mystify personal security on the Internet, but since governments are frequently accused of violating individual privacy rights, you should also check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s post on the subject.
2) “The cloud” with a chance of freefalls
When someone refers to “the cloud” they’re not talking weather, they’re using a metaphor for where your information is stored - it’s a type of data storage that relies on multiple servers spreading out saved data in a distributed system. The main thing to understand is that this information is not being stored on your computer, it’s being stored on someone else’s.
What to do?
Be aware of what your apps and services are up to. Saving information locally means only you get to decide whether to delete or save that information. Saving it to the cloud means someone else does. Are you saving photos from your phone directly to the cloud? Don’t! You may be saving to the cloud without even realizing it, a scenario that Apple’s iCloud is notorious for causing. Here’s Yahoo’s overly dramatic post about freeing iPhones (and other apple products) from iCloud; other phones and providers may use similar services and should feature similar opt-out settings.
3) Public WIFI lurkers
When you use public WIFI, it’s pretty easy for bad guys to see everything you’re doing on the Internet -- would you log in to your dating website if everyone in the coffee shop were looking over your shoulder? Even in a private residence, if the WIFI’s public, everybody on the block could be all up in your business.
What you can do:
Only use WPA2- or WES-protected networks and make sure your home WIFI is secured in the same way. For additional security, don’t do any sensitive browsing (meaning don’t “log in” to your bank website) in airports, coffee shops and other public places if you can avoid it… See this CNet article for more info and details about what services to disable on your computer if you plan to use it on a public network.
4) Narcissism and you
That dang social media brings out the showoff in all of us! Alas, anything you post to Facebook (for examples) is not only public, it’s also directly associated with all the other data you’ve ever given to Facebook. That likely includes your name, phone number, birth date, address and the names of all your friends and family. Social media is essentially 100% un-private from the get-go, and no amount of tweaking privacy settings can change that.
What you can do:
If you wouldn’t tell it to a stranger, don’t tell it to your Facebook wall. And remember that even if something seems innocuous, sometimes it could be used against you, such as blogging about the breakfast you just ate in Europe when there are thieves considering burglarizing your home in Kansas.
5) Jerks on the Internet
Internet jerks come in so many shapes and sizes. We’ll need sub-categories here.
Trolls are the jerks who post those horrible comments. You know them. They’re “trolling” for responses so they can follow-up with even more awful comments. The only real risk to your privacy here is that you might get so mad at a troll that you angrily type something revealing in all caps back at them like “U R NOT A REAL FAN!!1 MY PASSWORD FOR FACEBOOK IS BIEBERFAN2002 SO THAT SHOWS U”.
What to do?
Don’t, as they say, feed the trolls. Let them stew in their own juices and suffer in silence. Yuck.
5b) Hackerz ‘n Crackerz
Usually the news says “hackers” stole passwords or data. The correct term is actually “crackers”, although this isn’t frequently used due to confusion with certain race- and/or Saltine-based meanings. Either way, there are jerks out there doing bad stuff on purpose: they’re guessing at your password, or writing scripts to guess at your password, or writing scripts that take over other people’s computers and turn them into full-time password-guessing machines, or they’re just taking advantage of crappy security measures on random servers… There’s lots of bad things they do.
What to do?
Usually crackers are interested in the low-hanging fruit, so even the most basic precautionary measures will dissuade them from messing with your stuff. WIth that said, the more precautions you take, the better. Use strong passwords and use different ones for different sites. Only give personal info to sites that seem trustworthy.
Even people who aren’t purposefully degrading your privacy online can do it accidentally. Your mom, for instance, might share an embarassing photo of you as a child on Facebook. Or your well-meaning co workers might email your password to you unencrypted while sitting at Starbucks. Or someone might log into a shared account at the library and leave it logged in when they leave…
What to do?
To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, you can turn your back on a man, but never turn your back on the Internet. Or better said, try not to give anybody the opportunity to accidentally ruin your privacy. Don’t share something with a well meaning friend or relative unless you’re comfortable that it may end up somewhere less well meaning. No secrets are safe on the Internet!
Above all, be aware that any time you give information to a website or Internet-based service, you’re putting that information out in the wild, where it’s vulnerable and potentially valuable. So if you’re going to take naked pictures of yourself and you don’t want them all over the Internet, use a Polaroid camera. But make sure it’s an old one - the recent models are all digital.
*Disclaimer: this list is not comprehensive and does not include, for instance, the risk of not noticing someone taking naked photos of you because you were distracted by the Internet, so always remember to use your best judgment in all situations.
- This post brought to you by the FINE Development Team