What is Privacy?Back to blog
What is privacy
Privacy is your right to control how information about you is used, processed, stored, or shared.
If you ever go online, internet privacy should be one of your biggest concerns. Surf the web and you can’t help but stumble on a new story about how much your personal data is collected while you enjoy your favorite sites. Think you’ve got nothing to hide? Think again.
In this internet privacy article, we’ll cover:
1) Why privacy matters
2) Why you should pay attention to your privacy
3) How your privacy can be invaded
4) How to take control of your privacy
Why Privacy Matters
There are two common privacy myths. Some people believe they don’t really need their data, so there’s no reason to protect it. Others think their data is safe and protected enough, so why bother worrying?
But here’s the truth about internet privacy:
- Whether you realize it or not, you’re responsible for posting a lot of your own private data.
- Websites you browse daily may potentially sell your data to third parties.
- Many companies neglect to secure their users’ data. This results in massive data breaches exposing your personal records all over the web.
- Some ads go beyond advertising goods and track your browsing habits. It gets worse. Armed with this data, advertising companies may influence your purchasing, voting, and life-changing decisions.
All these things can be a real pain, because anyone who gets ahold of your data may access your credit history, medical records, Social Security Number, or physical location. Once hackers access all the data above, they might even be able to:
- steal your identity
- blackmail you
- demand ransom
- damage your reputation
- sell your data to advertisers
A recent Equifax case shows just how bad it can get.
How your privacy can be invaded
There are three ways your private information can be exposed: by online ads, by websites that track your online behavior, or by massive data breaches. Let's take a closer look at each one.
While browsing the web, you’ll see a lot of ads. Their main job is to show you relevant products or services. But these ads can also be used for privacy-invading purposes, including:
- tracking what you do online
- spreading malware, or malvertising
- influencing your product choice
You’d be surprised how much power these advertisements have over your purchasing habits. By knowing your browsing habits, advertisers can push you to shop till you drop.
There’s nothing free in life, including your favorite email and social services like Gmail, Twitter, and Facebook. Remember, if you’re not paying for the product, then most likely you are the product. This means you don’t pay for using the service with money, but rather with your data, which might not be intended for sharing with anyone.
For example, social networking sites already know:
- what you’re sending in direct messages
- which websites you visit (in case you’ve ever clicked Like us on Facebook)
- what you’re reading or watching on these websites
- what user information you share with sites where you sign up / log in with Facebook
Website tracking is only part of the story. Your ISP collects even more information including:
- your full browsing history
- time of all website sessions
- amount of traffic transferred between you and the site
- contents of unsecured connection (that’s why HTTPS and encryption are so important, not only for security but also for privacy)
And we barely scratched the surface. The amount of data stored for every single online user is shockingly vast. For example, Trump’s campaign used thousands of data points on every American.
It appears that a number of internet services fail to implement basic security measures for their databases. Even more, suffering from data breaches has become a trend for large companies, which leads to leaking thousands of gigabytes of user data online.
Think this doesn’t matter? What if your email password gets leaked this way? With this small piece of information, a hacker can:
- access your social networking accounts
- recover your password and access your online banking
- purchase unwanted items and transfer your money
- trick your family or friends into sending money or documents
- steal your identity
How to take control of your privacy
It’s time you take your privacy seriously. Be careful with your online behavior and improve your computer security.
Change Your Behavior
The rule of thumb is to think before you post anything on the web. This isn’t about being paranoid about every action online (it might be helpful, though), but more about common sense. Always remember where your personal data may end up and think twice whether you want to expose that piece of information.
Imagine you’ve just got your hands on tickets to your favorite concert. You’re excited and want the whole world to know. But you also don’t want someone to copy your concert tickets and use them (or sell them). Here are some basic online privacy rules you should always follow:
- Never post photos of your passport, plane tickets, driver license, or credit card details online.
- Avoid clicking ads you see on the web.
- Be careful when opening emails or messages from unknown senders.
- Keep away from spam emails.
Change Your Environment
There are several ways to cut down the amount of information collected about you on the web.The main three things you should focus on are your browser, your operating system, and the online services you use.
While you’re searching for things online, your browser is keeping notes. This includes all your search queries (including those you didn’t search for, but wrote in the search bar), the websites you visited, your IP address, your physical location, and your online identity.
Want to expose less personal info? Follow this quick browser protection guide.
1) Security tab.
a. Enable warnings when visiting fraudulent websites.
b. Check the Block pop-up windows box.
2) Privacy tab.
a. Enable Prevent cross-site tracking.
b. Select Ask websites to not track me.
c. Block all cookies (note it might affect some website functionality or log you out).
3) Websites tab.
a. Disable Java and Silverlight plugins
b. Deny accessing your location when visiting websites.
4) Autofill tab (make sure everything is disabled).
5) Passwords tab (make sure AutoFill is unchecked, and remove any listed websites).
1) Turn off prediction services and sending information to Google.
2) Disable Autofill.
3) Disable Password manager.
In Settings > Advanced > Content Settings:
- Block running Flash player. Flash appears to be the source of high severity security bugs and it’s going to stop receiving updates in 2020.
- Block popups and intrusive ads.
- Block location services.
- If you don’t use audio/video chats in your browser like Google Hangouts etc., you can turn off Camera and Microphone access.
- Block third-party cookies.
1) Update your Firefox automatically.
2) Uncheck Accept cookies from websites and disable third-party cookies.
3) Select Always to enable tracking protection.
4) Manage your permissions and warnings.
5) Uncheck storing your passwords.
Also, we recommend to always disable autofill and never save passwords, no matter what browser you use. The browser is not the most reliable place to store your passwords or credit card details because anyone can gain complete access to your online accounts if:
- your device is lost or stolen
- hackers remotely take over your computer
- someone uses your profile on your computer when you aren’t around
Here are some useful extensions that will help you reveal much less personal records.
- uBlock Origin blocks online ads and website trackers.
- Privacy Badger disables spying ads and invisible trackers.
- HTTPS Everywhere helps encrypt your connection with websites you browse.
There is no silver bullet for disabling web tracking, but following the basic steps above (or at least installing the easy-to-use uBlock Origin, which is available for all major browsers) will help you share less private data online.
Yes, the operating system also may collect information about its users, including:
- webcam and microphone records
- any text you type or copy
- sensitive data stored on your computer (saved passwords, credit card details, documents, photos, etc.)
- websites you visit
- applications you install
- system information like hardware characteristics or IP address
Let’s walk through some popular operating systems. According to popular opinion from the most tech-savvy users, while Windows 10 is shiny, new, and easy to use, it’s a bad choice from a privacy perspective. Although you can’t completely stop Windows from collecting your data, you can minimize it.
To do so, turn off every privacy, telemetry, advertisement, tracking, feedback, account information, and location setting.
macOS is no privacy advocate’s dream-come-true either. The OS sends Apple all kinds of info like your location, Spotlight searches, Siri conversations, and iCloud backups. But it is much easier to disable tracking in macOS than in Windows.
Connecting to the internet through VPN provides an additional privacy layer. It also hides your IP address, so even if someone tracks your activities, they won’t be able to find your location.
Use VPN when you browse the web from public spots, like libraries or coffee shops. It’s a good habit to fend off an attacker from doing nasty things to your computer. But be wary of free VPN services. They may collect logs of your online activity. For help making your VPN decision, check out this great independent comparison of various VPN providers and choose VPN wisely.
Here is a list of what online services know about you:
- Anything you share with these services including:
|- Mailbox content (any email client like Gmail)
|- Documents and files (cloud storage services like Google Drive or Dropbox)
|- Messages content (Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, etc.)
- Other websites you visit if you use social media widgets such as Like us on Facebook or Retweet.
- Everything you do on a website if you sign up using your social media, Google or Github account.
But let’s face it. Some of those “free” services are extremely valuable, for both work and pleasure. If you need them, consider switching to free open source alternatives that won’t track your activity. For example, you can migrate your mailbox from Gmail to Protonmail and switch your default search engine from Google to DuckDuckGo. You can find some more open source alternatives here.
Following the steps above will protect you from mass surveillance on the internet. Just keep in mind that if one of the three-letter agencies wants to target you, managing your browser settings and installing VPN isn’t nearly enough.
In Europe, a new privacy regulation institution called GDPR was recently established. It’s aimed at providing EU residents with full control over their personal data. GDPR requirements apply to every data controller or processor which holds data of the EU residents or those based in the EU. Obviously, it also applies to businesses that hold or process their EU-based clients’ data.
As you see, online privacy concern is a burning issue. Now cybercriminals need less time and efforts to track users, but we hope the tips and tricks in this post will help make sure your private info stays private.