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Survey: Internet users worry about privacy, personal info being exposed online

Survey: Internet users worry about privacy, personal info being exposed online

A new survey out today from the Pew Research Center shows that internet users are concerned about their privacy online, but many feel that anonymity online is just not all that possible anymore.

In a representative survey of 792 internet users, 86% have tried in some form or another to cover their digital footprints, and 55% have tried to avoid observation by specific people, organizations, or the government.

But as technology reporter Brian Fung at the Washington Post points out, “The good news is that there’s a big gap between people’s expectations and what most have already tried.”

Indeed, most are already trying common methods such as clearing and disabling cookies, deleting past posts, and using temporary email addresses and usernames.

Fung offers a helpful set of tips that are more advanced than the basics but are still easy enough for most users to employ without a lot of technical competence.  They range from encrypting your email and chats, to employing private browsing and anonymizers like Tor, to using a password manager.  I recommend his post – it’s a short and easy read.

There was also another component to the Pew survey however that I also found interesting.  It’s a rough obstacle course out there.  In fact, many are more concerned with protecting their personal information from the eyes of hackers, advertisers and family members than they are about the government’s observation.

CNET picked up on it:

A fair percentage of people have already run into trouble online. Among those polled, 21 percent have seen their e-mail or social network accounts compromised, 12 percent have been stalked or harrassed online, and 6 percent said their reputation was hurt because of something that happened online.

“Users clearly want the option of being anonymous online and increasingly worry that this is not possible,” Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project and the author of the report on the survey, said in a statement. “Their concerns apply to an entire ecosystem of surveillance. In fact, they are more intent on trying to mask their personal information from hackers, advertisers, friends, and family members than they are trying to avoid observation by the government.”

You can visit Pew Internet to download the full report and check out the survey questions.


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Legal Question: If you are chatting online with a 60 year old man who pretends to be a 13 year old girl – are you breaking any laws? Even if you were sexting with a police officer who pretends to be underage – have you broken any laws? Or, what if it is a male reporter on the other end?

The NSA…. the gov’s hacking enterprise! All those data junkies can’t wait to get all that personal info to study.

In the Neo-technological Age, it pays to be a luddite 🙂

Focusing on the NSA won’t gain you much, and may invite surveillance. Their charter is international comms, so 99.99% of America’s day-to-day isn’t of interest to them.

The biggest threats are criminals who want your info. If you use Facebook or Google, know that they use your info as they see fit, i.e., Obama has access. Simply put, don’t put info out there that you want to keep private. Consider a paid email service (not gmail or hotmail) to be semi-safe, i.e., hackers can’t get them unless they crack the service, which is unlikely. But if your friend has gmail …

If you surf, know that Google and the advertisers track you. That’s why I run “Do Not Track Me” on Firefox to slow them down — much to the Professor’s consternation. Load your hosts file with a list of malicious websites to block access. Run an antivirus, and occasionally run Malwarebytes and/or other scanners to keep spies off your machine.

Another good idea is to run behind a router so your machine isn’t directly exposed to the web. I have mine set not to respond to pings or anything. I’ll change the router mac address occasionally which causes my ISP to give me a new IP address, as this helps to slow down trackers. Also, don’t store tax returns or passwords or other personal info on your machine.

The bottom line is to be conscious of what you are doing, and choose your acceptable risk level.