We begin with answering the question: What is privacy? David Banisar of the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Simon Davies of Privacy International authored a report on privacy. They begin with:
If you are unfamiliar with your human rights we implore you to take a moment to read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. From the start it is stated that the “inherent dignity” and “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” It is written in article 12: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
With the age of information technology (IT), we have seen greater technological capabilities with respect to collection of data. There are numerous devices that are mobile to meet our needs which can record video, audio, and image with ease. We can communicate across the world using email, text messages, video chatting, and of course telecommunications. The level of information generated by each of us has dramatically increased. And yet, the findings of the fifth annual IDC Digital Universe study as reported by ComputerWorld states that: “the amount of data people create by writing email messages, taking photos, and downloading music and movies is minuscule compared to the amount of data being created about them…”.
So what’s the harm? What do any of us stand to lose? Good questions! We need to look at two very important factors in this new age of data creation:
- How is this data being used without my knowledge in ways that impact me and,
- How safe is my personal and private information.
Here, in part, are the answers:
Computers linked together by high speed networks with advanced processing systems can create comprehensive dossiers on any person without the need for a single central computer system. New technologies developed by the defense industry are spreading into law enforcement, civilian agencies, and private companies.
…though 75% of data today is generated by individuals, enterprises will have some liability for 80% of it at some point in its digital life. And less than one-third of all stored data today has even minimal security or protection; only about half the information that should be protected is protected at all…
Giving It Away:
In recent news we have seen considerable attention placed on Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA, and his leaking information on data collection by the US government. A CNN report clearly lays out many examples of data mining that go on without our knowledge or consent. Let’s take a closer look at some of the 10 ways you give up data without knowing it; how data is being used in ways we are seldom aware.
- Earlier this year, Facebook purchased information on 70 million US households from a data mining company called Datalogix. Facebook went public with a statement that confirmed what many users were noticing: they were tracking user’s behaviours for advertising purposes. The creators of adverts have been given the opportunity to select their audience targeting options.”
- Twitter is partnering with WPP, a leading advertising firm, to analyze Twitter data so as to better monitor consumer behaviour in real-time. This will enable advertisement to better market to you.
- Amazon was one of the first companies to start using cookie trackers. Cookies are downloaded to your device or computer to track and analyze where you are browsing and what you are looking at online. The Amazon advertisements then are matched accordingly. Fortunately, there are methods of turning cookie tracking off.
- Target made use of a mailer system to track purchases – a system that would send coupons by mail based on analyzing what purchases are made. The system was so accurate that in one case it predicted a teenage girl was pregnant based on the purchase of toiletries and groceries. Unfortunately the teenager and her family did not know of the pregnancy prior to receiving the coupons.
- Law enforcement agencies across the country are constructing DNA databases under the radar. Previously this was in the domain of FBI agencies. These local agencies however, operate with considerable more leeway and police are able in some cases to collect samples from innocent victims of crimes. In some case these people do not realize their DNA will be saved for future searches.
We pay the price for taking advantage of what we consider “free” services such as email, social networking, and other digital services including simply browsing online. In the latter case we are exposed to tracker cookies, advertisements, and a host of files that are downloaded to our systems without knowledge or consent. As we have clearly pointed out in this month’s articles, there are those that can access our information including the data we simply volunteer from regular use and the items that may be more personal or confidential. If the government can access our data, you can bet that cyber criminals can. Next, we point out how to guard your information.
How To Be PC Secure:
We are going to look at closing some security holes ranging from web browsers to encryption and back again to cleaning up what private information you unknowingly make available.
Step 1 – The Web Browser:
There are many websites that offer you the option of using a secure connection when you browse on their site. Security experts agree that this is a good decision when the option is available. The technology for this is referred to as “Transport Layer Security” (TLS), its predecessor is “Secure Sockets Layer” (SSL). Here is what you can do:
- When you are browsing (try it with Wikipedia for example), change the URL in the address bar from “http:// “ to: “https://”.
- You can with some browsers such as Google Chrome, see an icon at the left side (it may appear as a padlock) or on the right side with Internet Explorer. You can click this and get all sorts of information and options including permissions about using cookies. You can also view certificate information and configure certificates.
- You may have to type “https://” when no preface appears.
- A certificate is a digitally signed statement that binds the value of a public key to the a person, device, or service with the corresponding private key.
Further to this: For some browsers you can check the options or settings to configure the Security or Privacy settings.
For an advanced option: you can try HTTPS Everywhere an extension that works with Firefox and Chrome browsers to encrypt your communications when connecting to many major websites.
Search Engine: All of Google’s data is aggregated and used to customize and target advertising (among other things) aimed at you the user. To use a search engine that does not use tracking you can try the following suggestions. You can disable all your Google, YouTube, Chat (and more) history tracking. However, we find it is sometimes useful to use your history to find something you viewed in your recent past. We recommend trying out Duckduckgo which uses:
Step 2 – Email:
Most major email services (including Outlook and Gmail), offer encryption of some kind. You can open your settings and review the security settings and options. Unfortunately with some (like Google mail), you have to dig deep and you may end up with statements of how they may share aggregated information that is non-personally identifiable to their partners including advertisers.
For an advanced option: Read more about how to encrypt your email connection, content, and stored copies.
Step 3 – Data Encryption:
You can also encrypt the entire data content of your system or a portion thereof. This would be useful in the event that someone steals your laptop or you risk losing it. All content you choose to encrypt is scrambled and would require a password. With some data encryption tools you can encrypt a USB key, an entire hard drive, or the partition where Windows is installed so that you have to use a password to pre-boot the system.
We recommend checking out TrueCrypt a free open-source disk encryption software for Windows 7/Vista/XP, Mac OS X, and Linux.
Step 4 – VPN:
Now if you want to get serious – try out a VPN, a Virtual Private Network. You can group a number of computers over a public network so as to encrypt data being sent back and forth. Many businesses use this to connect remote datacenters and to get access to resources. For more information on this and for a list of reputable VPN providers follow this link.
Step 5 – Clean Up:
The reality is… if you have something worth stealing or to warrant surveillance, if you have information that is confidential and available in digital form, you put yourself in a place of being vulnerable to data capturing and potential abuse of information. The greatest measure you can take is to take what is valuable out of harm’s way when possible.
Take action: Refer to our previous article on “Security”. Once you have read information on backing up data, go the section “The Personal Security and Privacy Scan”. You get good instruction and information on how PC Clean Maestro can detect personal data items that are automatically stored on your PC and “clean” these to keep your computing practices safe and private.
You can keep your digital information secure and away from the wrong hands – or just “other” hands entirely. We hope you are well on your way to taking full advantage of current technologies without the loss of privacy and confidentiality.