Want a New Year’s resolution that takes less than 10 minutes, can be done right now, is FREE, and will improve your life all year long? Take control of your online privacy.
Your digital footprint is comprised of your online actions and personal information whether you placed this information online, or some other entity did. This footprint is being tracked by companies and advertisers, digital brokers and cyberthieves, at unprecedented and rapidly escalating levels. While some of what is being tracked is of benefit to you, there are far too many instances where the data collection is exploitive, and you’d be outraged to discover what is being collected, shared, sold, or rented about you.
Those wanting to make a buck off your information say that people no longer care about their privacy; that we live in an era where exposing all our information is the new norm, and they’ve built their business models on this principle – though you’ll notice that those on the forefront of espousing the ‘expose-all norm’ go to great lengths to protect their own information and privacy.
To help consumers, Congress and the FTC are now looking into the trampling of your privacy online and formulating legislation that would provide consumers better protections, but you don’t have to wait for an act of Congress to significantly improve your control of your own online privacy.
Take Those 10 Minutes to Greater Privacy NOW
I’ve blogged about PrivacyChoice.org in the past. They’re an organization dedicated to making privacy easier for consumers by offering tools that help you understand and make choices about your online privacy.
Note: I can’t claim the privilege of being associated in any way with this organization; this recommendation is purely my own opinion.
On the PrivacyChoice homepage you’ll see eight key links; four under “Curious?”, and four under “Want Control?” I recommend taking the time to go through all of these, but if you’re in a hurry go through the top three links under “Want control?” first.
Since I last blogged about them, PrivacyChoice has added some cool new tools:
- PrivacyCheck, which makes it easy to check the Facebook privacy status of your family and other loved ones. Try it here:
- PrivacyChoice Disconnect, which makes it easy to remove your email address from datamining services that connect it to your social network profile. Try it here:
- Added a quick way to see how ad companies view you all in one place. Try it here:
- Extended the coverage of the TrackerBlock service and added support for Internet Explorer, making it the most effective way to control whether you are tracked online. Try it here:
Once you’ve taken these steps, you will have significantly improved your control over your privacy.
To further improve control over your privacy:
- Make sure you have antivirus and antispyware software on all computers. If your computer isn’t protected, it IS infected – and crooks ARE stealing your information.
- Review the privacy terms and conditions of every social site you use, AND review your personal privacy settings choices on those sites.
- Search yourself using at least two search engines. There is likely to be considerably more than what you have posted. If you want any information removed, work with the websites to see what can be taken down.
- Consider whether you want your home to be displayed on online maps, if not, learn How to Remove Images of Your Home from Google’s Street View
- Change all your passwords. Learn how to do so smartly here: Safe passwords don’t have to be hard to create; just hard to guess
- Do some online “pruning.” Review all your personal contacts in instant messaging (IM), email, social networking sites, forums, blogs, etc. Are they still relevant? Remove anyone you no longer interact with.
- Look to find the tracking policies of the key websites you use.
- The Wall Street Journal wrote an excellent series titled What they Know that gives you a tool to look at the top websites and see how they share your information, and you can go directly to their site, or see how I put the privacy issue into context with my blog Could Facebook Go the Way of MySpace?
- Install and use PrivacyChoice’s Trackerscan tool. Once you install it, you can click to see what tracking tools are being used on any website you visit. For example, in this picture you’ll see that I looked up the companies that track users on the New York Times website.
I am not opposed to online advertising — it’s what funds our ‘free’ use of internet services. What does concern me is knowing which companies are tracking me and how they are doing so, understanding the privacy elements that are in place to protect me, and being able to opt out if I choose to do so.
Have a Happy, and private, New Year!