Protecting Your Private Data

As a follow-up to my newsletter article “Does Privacy Exist Any More“, I’m writing this blog post to help you learn a little bit more about how to protect your Private Data.  I have not yet tried out all of these tips, and yes, somewhere someone is probably tracking my every keystroke and yours for clicking here. I know that people find me on the internet all the time so there’s a tracking device here somewhere!  I have not yet found the “disclaimer” or fine print asking me for permission to use my stuff, although I suspect that just by setting up my website I gave the ok without really knowing it.   (You know, in some respects life was much simpler before computers were invented…!)

But to get to the topic at hand, 60-Minutes broadcast a segment and spoke to an expert who did try to find all the tracking and data brokers.  They also spoke to an expert who introduced viewers to a software program called “Disconnect”.  This software shows all the 3rd party companies who have been given permission to be on a website site and track activities.  These are the companies who actually gather the data and sell it to others by category, such as medicines used, internet purchases, geographic locations, stores we frequent, etc.  This is how your computer “knows” which ads to place on the margins of your screen.  Funny how they always seem to be related to the stuff you just searched for the other day, hmm?  

So the first tip is to download this software in order to learn who is tracking us.  I have not done this yet nor am I endorsing the software, just providing the information for you to investigate further at your own discretion. It could be an interesting exercise, though.  I wonder exactly who is watching…

In a side video on 60-Minutes’ Overtime site, an investigative reporter did some research to try and find the data brokers and opt out of the data gathering.  This reporter found over 200 data brokers, but only half of them would allow her to opt out.  She found they required her to give ID and credit card number in order to start the opt-out process, and it would take several months to complete.  She felt this could be come a full-time job!  And she was a trained investigator!  I may have unwittingly given permission to use my info by creating my website, give my ID and credit card to erase the info collected?? Isn’t that giving even more information about myself?  What am I missing here?

The reporter did give additional actions we could take to protect ourselves, if we cannot completely opt out.  One of those recommendations was to create a fake on-line name (“disposable identity”) and fake email address.  The expert gave software called “Mask Me” that does this.  I’m not sure I like creating fake names – it feels like I’m entering the world of spamming, but it seems to me that this might be the only way to protect what little privacy I have left.  Hmmm.  I always say there’s a positive for every negative.  Maybe the spammers have got at least one small thing right.  After all, how successful have we been in finding out who the spammers really are?

The reporter also gave a recommendation for an alternate search engine and browser to use instead of Google, which stores every search and action we’ve ever made.  Duck Duck Go is the search engine she recommends, and it does not collect or store searches or recognize visitors to the site.  White Hat Aviator is the browser.

As for cell-phones, the investigative reporter suggested to check your settings and look into Faraday bags.  Faraday bags are lined with metal and will prevent electronic signals from being emitted.  If you have an iPhone, look at your privacy settings and select the option for Advertising.  There’s an option to limit ad tracking and reset the advertising identifier, which the reporter said basically clears your history.  There’s a similar feature for Droid phones – look for your privacy options in your phone’s settings.  

The important thing to know is that your cell phone transmits signals, even if it is OFF.  So even with these precautions you might still be giving away precious privacy.  Think twice before sending that silly photo, transmitting sensitive data or even talking on the phone in a crowded public space!

For more information, here are links to the videos mentioned in this blog.  

60-Minutes How Data Brokers Use Your Data



60-Minutes How To Defend Your Privacy




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