International Privacy Day: Protect Your Digital Footprint


You cherish your privacy, don’t you?

Get naked. Now go into your bathroom. Shut the door. Sit down.

You may now cherish your privacy.

Just don’t expect to cherish it for long. Eventually someone else in your house will want to, um, cherish their privacy.

Once you leave the bathroom and enter cyberspace (with or without getting dressed) – well, abandon hope all ye who enter here.

You probably know data is collected about you every time you visit a website, shop online, engage in social sharing, enable location services or send digital messages and email. But according to a recent global study by Microsoft, most cyber surfers “still don’t feel they are completely aware of the information that’s being collected about them.”

For instance, did you know that Facebook, Twitter and Google+ track your visits to any website with a displayed “Like,” “Tweet” or “+1” icon, whether or not you even click one of those buttons? According to Robin Wilton, identity and privacy director for the Internet Society, every day businesses are finding new — and not always honorable (I know, a shock) — ways to use this collected intel. (Find out more about data collection here.)

So how do you protect yourself from undesired data collection and your collected data from misuse or misappropriation?

Don’t expect the Feds to help. Three years ago, President Obama proposed a Consumer Bill of Rights, but given recent revelations about potentially unlawful government snooping by the NSA, aided and abetted by cellular carriers and other service providers, this effort seems a bit disingenuous.

So, it’s up to us to understand our own privacy rights and how best to protect our what’s ours in cyberspace.

What are ‘they’ collecting, and how?

On the occasion of the seventh annual Data Privacy Day (Data Protection Day in Europe) this Thursday (January 28), the Internet Society’s Wilton assembled this helpful guide to help us understand and protect our cyber lives.

First, here are three cyber data collection basics:

1. Known and unknown data. Collected data falls into two categories: data you provide by consent when you register with a website, and data taken without your explicit knowledge or consent from your computer and browsing history. The former can include name, address, email, phone number and more. On Facebook, for instance, you may have registered marital, employment status, even the name of your employer. The latter can include anything from your IP address and general location to insights into your age, gender, income, hobbies, health status and financial situation.

2. Good and bad cookies. To know if you’re the same person visiting multiple times, to help you navigate a website more quickly, easily and safely, and to help you shop more securely online, a website might set a “cookie”, a kind of browser memo to itself that the website can…

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