Browsing Privacy Fears

Social Networking - what are the dangers?

The phenomenon of Internet based Social Networking has changed not just how people use the Internet but its very shape. Large data centers around the world, particularly in the US, have been built to cater to the sudden and vast desire for people to upload content about themselves, their interests and their lives in order to participate in the digital society.

Social Networking as we know it with Facebook, Twitter (and earlier MySpace) are certainly far from 'free'. Rather, these are businesses that seek to develop upon, and then exploit, a very basic anxiety: the fear of social irrelevance. As social animals we can't bear the idea of missing out and so many find themselves placing their most intimate expressions onto a businessman's hard-disk, buried deep in a data center in another country - one they will never be allowed to visit.

Despite this many would argue that the social warmth and personal validation acquired through engagement with Social Networks well out-weighs the potential loss of privacy. Such a statement however is only valid when the full extent of the risks are known.

The risks of Social Networking on a person's basic right to privacy are defined by:

The scope and intimacy of the user's individual contributions.

  • A user posting frequently and including many personal details constructs a body of information of greater use for targeted marketing.

The preparedness of the user to take social risks.

  • A user making social connections uncritically is at greater risk from predators and social engineering attacks.

The economic interests and partners of the organisation providing the service.

  • Commissioned studies from clients, data mining, sentiment analysis.

Political/legal demands exerted by the State against the organisation in the jurisdiction(s) in which it is resident.

  • Court orders for data on a particular user (whether civilian or foreigner).
  • Surveillance agendas by law enforcement or partners of the organisation.
  • Sentiment analysis: projections of political intent.

With these things in mind it is possible to chart a sliding scale between projects like Diaspora and Facebook: the former promises some level of organisational transparency, a commitment to privacy and a general openness, whereas Facebook proves to be an opaque company economically able to gamble with the privacy of their users and manage civil lawsuits in the interests of looking after their clients. As such there is more likelihood of your interactions with a large Social Network service affecting how an Insurance company or potential employer considers you than a smaller, more transparent company.

Who can steal my identity?

This question depends on the context you are working within as you browse. A weak and universal password presents a danger of multiple services from Social Networking, Banking, WebMail etc being account hijacked. A strong and universal password on a wireless network shared with others (whether open or encrypted) is just as vulnerable. The general rule is to ensure you have a strong password (see section on Passwords).

Wireless networks

Here we find ourselves amidst an often underestimated risk of someone listening in on your communications using network packet sniffing. It matters little if the network itself is open or password secured.  If someone uses the same encrypted network, he can easily capture and read all unsecured traffic of other users within the same network. A wireless key can be acquired for the cost of a cup of coffee and gives those that know how to capture and read network packets the chance to read your password while you check your email.

A simple rule always applies: if the cafe offers a network cable connection, use it! Finally, just as at a bank machine, make sure no one watches over your shoulder when you type in the password.

The browser cache

Due to the general annoyance of having to type in your password repeatedly, you allow the browser or local mail client to store it for you. This is not bad in itself, but when a laptop or phone gets stolen, this enables the thief to access the owner's email account(s). The best practice is to clear this cache every time you close your browser. All popular browsers have an option to clear this cache on exit. 

One precaution can justify you holding onto your convenient cache: disk encryption. If your laptop is stolen and the thief reboots the machine, they'll be met with an encrypted disk. It is also wise to have a screen lock installed on your computer or phone. If the machine is taken from you while still running your existing user session, it cannot be accessed.

Securing your line

Whenever you log into any service you should always ensure to use encryption for the entire session. This is easily done due to the popular use of TLS/SSL (Secure Socket Layer).

Check to see the service you're using (whether Email, Social Networking or online-banking) supports TLS/SSL sessions by looking for https:// at the beginning of the URL. If not, be sure to turn it on in any settings provided by the service. To better understand how browsing the World Wide Web works, see the chapter What happens when you browse.

Can I get in trouble for Googling weird stuff?

Google and other search companies may comply with court orders and warrants targeting certain individuals. A web site using a customised Google Search field to find content on their site may be forced to log and supply all search queries to organisations within their local jurisdiction. Academics, artists and researchers are particularly at risk of being misunderstood, assumed to have motivations just by virtue of their apparent interests.

Who is keeping a record of my browsing and am I allowed to hide from them?

It is absolutely within your basic human rights, and commonly constitutionally protected, to visit web sites anonymously. Just as you're allowed to visit a public library, skim through books and put them back on the shelf without someone noting the pages and titles of your interest, you are free to browse anonymously on the Internet.

How to not reveal my Identity?

See the chapter on Anonymity.

How to avoid being tracked?

See the chapter on Tracking.

encs/cph/fears-on-browsing-privacy.txt · Poslední úprava: 2013/01/12 23:48 (upraveno mimo DokuWiki)
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