About this blog - Improve privacy online

Are you concerned about erosion of your privacy online? This privacy blog will publish a series of posts educating you about actions you can take to maximize online privacy.  This series will go beyond raising concerns: it will lay out concrete steps you can take to minimize loss of privacy online.

Have you grown increasingly wary of Internet security and concerned about your privacy while browsing the Web or shopping online? Does it disturb you that your movements and activities on the web are tracked?  In fact, “personalized” ads can be displayed to you as you browse based on your history of page visits, pattern of online browsing, past purchases, searches, and travel. While these ads are sometimes useful, you may feel, like me, that they are an annoying invasion of your privacy, their legality notwithstanding: Web sites are allowed to display personalized ads that follow you around or that are driven by your browsing history and demographics based on your having clicked “I Agree” to their “Terms of use” (which you most likely clicked without ever reading).

 

Do you worry that emails, text messages, data, social media posts, photos, and documents you place on a cloud server could potentially be accessed and misused by hackers and other criminals, governments, or the site owners themselves? Are you concerned when you hear news of your personal information being transferred to third parties, or that servers were hacked by bad actors?

 

If you answered “yes” to some or all of the foregoing questions, then you’ve come to the right place! You need not feel resigned to the gradual loss of your privacy online as the price to be paid for the convenience of having free online tools. There are concrete steps you can take to minimize loss of privacy online that this blog will present to you in a series of posts.

 

Why this Blog?

I am a retired IT executive, an entrepreneur, former software products designer, and earned a Ph.D. in computer science years ago, but I have not specialized in privacy issues during my career. I am writing this blog, however, because I was taken aback by the enormous quantity of data collected about us and its potential for misuse, and because, when trying to address this issue for my own use, I found that the information available on the web for improving online privacy is scattered across many sites, each dealing with select issues, resulting in an overload of unorganized information. As I have educated myself on the information available, I have consolidated my analysis, conclusions and advice into a single, organized blog site with a roadmap and actionable advice to improve your online privacy, providing you links to others’ product reviews and discussions when a “deep dive” is desired. For some topics and specific blog postings, I may enlist additional contributors.

 

None of us is associated with or receive any compensation from any technology vendor, corporation, consultancy, or political organization. We receive no economic benefit for positions or opinions expressed. The one caveat is that we may provide links to products that address a privacy issue that could result in a small commission to us, if you purchase a product after following such a link. This helps defray some of our costs for creating and operating this web site.

 

See the About Us page for more details.

 

So what if personal data is collected online?

We hear several arguments from those who have thrown up their hands, resigned to loss of privacy:

 

  • “I have nothing to hide” -- This is an often heard refrain. Most people, however, are unaware of the breadth and depth of data collected about them, and none of us knows how the massive data collected might accidentally be leaked or be misused or abused in the future by hackers or other criminals, the vendors themselves, other corporations, spies, employees, or governments.
     

  • “I get ads, but I like free social media, email, remote access to documents/photos, storage, tailored search results, messaging, maps, calendar, etc. I’m glued to Google and Facebook.” If you are committed to Facebook or Google, we will point you to settings you can adjust to improve privacy, but we will also point you to Internet reviews and share our own experience regarding alternatives to using Google’s browser, search engine, email, cloud storage, maps, and other tool categories. Beyond the data the technology companies collect, keep in mind that the content you upload online yourselves – including documents, photos, calendar, messages, social media posts, “to do” lists, and email – could be conceivably accessed by bad actors.
     

  • “I like targeted ads” -- Would you like it if in the real world, while shopping in a mall, someone recorded your every step, including actions such as the following:
     

  1. The date/time you entered the mall

  2. You walked into a hat store and tried on three hats all in the blue family, but walked out without a purchase 7 minutes later

  3. You stopped at the mall directory and pointed to 3 trendy women’s clothing stores that appeal to your age bracket

  4. You entered a clothing store, tried on 2 pairs of pants, and purchased one pair of blue jeans in a size “Large” for $59, charged to your Visa card; as you pay, a stranger whispers in your ear, “The blue hat you tried on earlier is on sale now”

  5. The next day at a different mall, a stranger hands you a flyer showing clothing matching the styles, age bracket, size and colors that you browsed the previous day.

    That is roughly analogous to what is happening in the online world. Most of us would regard the above scenario as invasive, too much of a bombardment, and/or downright creepy. It is also not likely to be information you would want shared, leaked, or hacked and exposed to the world on the front page of your newspaper.
     

  • “I like the convenience of online shopping" --
    Please continue to shop, but we will tell you about precautions you might want to take.

 

What will this blog teach?

We will present measures for fighting attempts on the part of numerous web sites to track you around the web in order to send you “nagging” ads based on products you have viewed. We will explore the enormous, even scary, amount of data gathered by giants like Google and Facebook as well as others as the basis for personalized, targeted ads and personalized search results. Our online habits, our demographics, our online browsing/searching history, and even our political leanings and economic status are being captured. Our view, and that of a growing body of privacy experts, is that while social media and networking features, emailing, searching, browsing, gaming, messaging, and navigating maps have great, even enormous, user value and are often provided for “free,” the price you may be paying is the loss of privacy. We will point you to specific actions for minimizing this loss and blocking invasive surveillance of our online lives.

 

Examples of other topics we will explore will include backup strategies and remote access that consider privacy; password best practices; protecting your IP address; fighting identity theft; managing your credit rating; guarding your location history; replacing or supplementing Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo mail with a secure email service; privacy issues with social media, terms of use and privacy policies; managing spam; the balance between vital privacy legislation and unrestrained innovation; and more.

Will new legislation be needed?

 

While this blog is written from a USA perspective, its content is largely relevant globally. We will explore many technical and behavioral actions you can take to enhance your privacy online. Nonetheless, it should be noted that some privacy issues cannot be mitigated through user actions alone. Some will require new legislation to make certain intrusive practices illegal. A future post will outline what legislation you might advocate that your lawmakers pass.

What about actionable advice?

In this series of posts, we will suggest concrete steps you can take to take back some control over your private information, and suggest links to useful resources and reviews. Stay tuned.

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