Who is watching you online ? A better question is, “Who isn't watching you?” You see it on the newsfeeds every day. NSA has been grabbing tons of consumer information without any legal authority. Every week it seems you hear about security breaches at large corporations like Target and other major department stores. Banks are being held up at the point and click of a mouse for millions of dollars, yet most consumers are blissfully unaware. Not only that but they line up to give up their privacy to free email services, social networks and smart phone providers. Like it or not, software applications have used artificial intelligence algorithms since the late 90's. Word processors infer the meaning of everything you type. Many smartphones do the same.
What does all this mean to your privacy?
Let's start by looking at how Google tracks you. The other day I was about to send an email via Gmail
|English: Gmail logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
and I mentioned in the body of the letter that I had attached a document. I forgot to attach the document and pressed send. Imme diately Gmail paused to ask me if I meant to attach a file. Gmail was reading what I had written!! If you use Chrome to surf the web you will also notice that the ads on Gmail also correspond to items you have recently viewed online. What it boils down to is that Gmail and Chrome are scanning everything you write and then passing this information onto to Google before you even press send.
Currently Google is being sued by a number of foreign countries for invasion of privacy. However, you don't have to frequent foreign shores to hear about how Google is abusing its power. Even Google’s competitors have jumped on the anti-privacy band wagon. Microsoft started an anti-Google campaign last Christmas touting, "Don’t Get Scroogled." They even managed to cash in on this phenomenon by selling Scroogled T-shirts and coffee cups. Microsoft used some of these profits to purchase TV ads nationwide that publicly took potshots at Google’s privacy policies.
This did not deter Google in the least. Recently Google removed a user's capability to control their privacy setting on android devices running Android 4.42. I won’t bore you with the list of apps that Google uses to track you. Suffice it to say that virtually all of them track you in some way.
Bear in mind that when it comes to data mining it’s not just Google who’s doing it on a land office basis. Yahoo, Bing (owned by Microsoft) and most search engines track you as well. Also any free services you acquire from the internet come complete with spyware of one form or another. These algorithms track how often you use their apps, they can load adware on your devices, or even hound you to buy other apps and services. They can also be programmed to record your geographic location and what other functions you may be using. This is especially true of smart phone and tablet apps. You should read the disclaimers before you install any free app. Most will blatantly inform you that they have access to your contact data base, ip address, system access and more. That means that the app can control vital functions of your smart device!
It's all a game until someone gets hurt.
Even gaming consoles have been coopted into the data mining arena. Recently Microsoft released its
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new XBOX One game console. Guess what? It requires you to login to Microsoft before you can play any games! Earlier I alluded to Microsoft's Scroogled marketing campaign against Google. But the reality is that Microsoft has been spying on you for even longer than Google. Think about it. All Microsoft applications call home every time you boot up. Every version of the Windows operating system calls home every day to check for updates and to make sure all your Microsoft software is bought and paid for! They also use their crash recovery monitor to send system information back that tracks the programs that are running at the time of the crash.
Let's not forget the fact that Social Media sites track your conversation, your contacts and your itinerary in realtime. What you may also be unaware of is the fact that every social network you subscribe to literally owns the information you key into their database. Every post, URL, picture, podcast and video that you upload belongs to them lock, stock and barrel. Their systems scan every keystroke and match it with ads that run on their system. They are scrutinizing every personal and private entry you make. On top of that, your employers and all your "friends" can see your posts! This can unfortunately include criminals disguised as beautiful blonds and little old ladies who just want to be friends.
Be very careful what you post on any social network. Do not disclose your age, personal address, when
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you are on vacation, when you’re not home, where you bank, or any kind of private or financial information. Cyber criminals are monitoring social networks more than ever. So much so that the FBI has raised the threat level for social networks to their highest level. Add to this the ongoing threats from hackers using widely available free hacking tools, deceptive email tactics and phishing strategies and you have an internet onslaught that’s wilder than the wild, wild west.
To make things even worse our own government is spying on us. The NSA has been busilygathering hundreds of terabytes of data from search engines, all social media sites, Microsoft, Apple Yahoo, Bing, cell phone companies and thousands of other online entities. This has gotten so out of hand that the congressional oversight committee that monitors the NSA recently stated that they had gone too far in gathering data and want them to stop gathering information without a specified threat.
|Surveillance camera (Photo credits: www.mysecuritysign.com)|
In addition, it not just the internet that is eroding your privacy, its anything connected to internet. Smart devices are popping up like weeds. Everything from internet enabled appliances to cars are fair game. Even personal property is not beyond reach. Case in point: The Boston Bomber was caught because people were taking pictures of the racers coming to the finish line. Internet security camera s are all the rage with home and business owners. Often times one or more of these cameras are pointed outside covering the entrance to their properties. The next time you’re at Wal-Mart, look up before you enter and smile you’re on Wal-Mart Candid Camera. And just to make it really interesting, people are now starting to wear smart eye wear (such as Google Glass) to record their surroundings. There are smart watches and tiny spy cameras everywhere. Some large retailers have been caught tracking their patrons store movements via the customers smart phone IP addresses and if you have an app for that store running, more than likely you will receive a text, email or popup suggesting you check out their latest special on whatever they are trying to push on you, the unaware consumer.
How to minimize your loss of privacy when using the internet.
· Don’t use Chrome, Internet Explorer or Safari as your browser. Choose a more secure alternative such as; SRware http://www.srware.net/en/software_srware_iron.php or
· Don’t Use Google, Yahoo or Bing, (and others) as your search engine of choice if you want to avoid being spied on. Best alternatives; Duck Duck Go https://duckduckgo.com/ Start page https://www.startpage.com/ Ixquick https://ixquick.com/ and Blekko http://blekko.com/
· There are even plug-in apps such as Abine’s DoNotTrackMe https://www.abine.com/. It works with Chrome and Firefox and does a decent job of minimizing ad tracking software. This can block web tracking, cookies and email tracking. Another woth mentioning is Web of Trust www.mywot.com/. This plug-in does not stop track of any kind but it does warn you about URL’s that have bad reputations so that you will avoid them.
· You'll also need to avoid using the top five social networks if you want to retain your privacy. (Facebook, YouTube, Google Plus, Twitter and LinkedIn) Here is a list of social networks that provide much greater privacy. Everyme, 23Snaps, Notabli, Nextdoor, Yammer, Couple, Path, Family Wall, Edmodo, and Photocircle.
· Tablets, Smart phones and other smart devices – Make sure you are running an antivirus/malware application on your smart device. Make sure its on all the time. Only use apps that have been around for a while. They should have lots of downloads and say they do not use adware. Also buy the apps you use unless you are just trying it out.
· Don’t use free email – A paid email service like Hushmail can provide no-ad private email for very little money. If you must use it, try using a masking application like DoNotTrackMe or use encryption software like the kind provided by TrendMicro or Voltage.
The bottom line is that you have two choices when it comes to online privacy: Switch your browsing, networking and emailing to services that ensure your privacy, or keep working with the services that keep byting the hand that feeds them.
If you liked this article, share it with your friends and co-workers. If you have a comment related to this article, enter it in the section below. I always enjoy researching and writing my social media predictions for the coming year. I hope this one was informative and enjoyable for you. May the coming year be enlightening and profitable for you and your family.
Until next time, that's my opinion, I look forward to hearing yours. Happy New Year to you and yours!
Until next time, that's my opinion, I look forward to hearing yours. Happy New Year to you and yours!
Hector Cisneros is a partner, COO and social media director for WSquared Media Group based in Jacksonville, FL. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube. He is also the co-host of Blog Talk Radio’s “Working the Web to Win,” where he and Carl Weiss make Working the Web to Win simple for every business. Hector is a syndicated writer for Ezine Online and is an active Blogger, (including ghost writing) and he is a published author of two books, 60 Seconds to success (on sale at Amazon and B&N) and Internet Marketing for the 21st Century which you can get free by clicking on the link at WSquaredMediaGroup.com.