The Importance of Online Privacy

In order to understand internet privacy, we must first understand what computer privacy is. Simply put, computer privacy means protecting your computer from hack-ins and viruses which may make all the information you have on it available to the public. It is very difficult to maintain computer privacy, and hazards like computer thieves are common threats against which a computer needs protection. Internet privacy, also known as online privacy, constitutes a large chunk of computer privacy, especially with the advent of the internet. It is the protection of data posted online. It uses a number of processes and softwares in order to ensure high levels of security. The E-commerce industry is highly dependent on internet security as it functions on transactions made online. Security Issues like identity theft, hacking and virus attacks are some of the main reasons why people value internet security. Studies show that there are fifteen million people who are victims of identity theft. Using social security numbers, passwords and usernames unprotected on the internet can have dire consequences. There are chances of the computer being physically stolen. If the computer is unprotected then the thief can use the passwords to do business of his own and use one’s credit card freely. Internet security has become a cause of global concern in which huge organizations have dedicated themselves solely to this cause.

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Levels of Online Privacy

There are three levels of internet security. Level zero, Level one and Level two. Level zero is the least secure of all three, in which there is no password or username required and all individuals have access to this data. When a username is required, but access to data is limited, it is known as level one security. An advantage database is one which allows the user to choose his privacy settings and is used mainly in mobile applications. This is supplemented by advantage database tables which make it easier to plug in the required data. Referential Integrity is the presence of one big database. For example, in a company the employees may be assigned under different area payrolls and have access to data pertaining to particular province or state. Field level constraints can be defined as the cogent filling in of values in particular fields such as no negative currency or time input. The record level is a subset of level one security where values in certain fields must follow a logical sequence. Flexible user access control is an account which is set up so that a person can control who can access data on a particular database. Here passwords and permissions are required in order for the user to access the data. Level two security is a standard for any industry. This means that in addition to a username and password, the data is encrypted and only that individual has the rights to see that data.

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What Are Cookies?

A cookie is a useful piece of data stored in the browser every time a user accesses the web. It stores useful information and when a user makes a repeat visit to the site, that piece of information is sent to the site where it restores the user’s previous activity. A large amount of data can be stored on the web and various cookies have different functions. Cookies may be temporary or permanent. A session cookie is an example of a temporary cookie that exists only when the individual is browsing the website. It has a time limit. Online bank instructions are examples of session cookies. Tracking cookies store user information on particular websites should the individual make a repeat visit to the site. They are also called persistent cookies. A secure cookie is one which sends encrypted data from user to site where only that person has access to the data. Data belonging to websites other than the one the user is browsing is known as a third party cookie. These usually come in the form of online advertisements. The least secure cookie is the super-cookie which comes in public domains. It is important for the website to block such cookies in order to retain the user privacy.

Online Photographs

A photograph which is taken and posted on the internet is known as an online photograph. It is imperative to know how to protect them so that an identity thief or hacker does not have access to them. There are many ways to protect one’s photographs online. A few ways are copywriting the photo, making copying more difficult, incorporation of rights and usage terms to access the photograph and taking action when there is a breach in contract. Copywriting the photo is a legal formality followed by many organizations where they have to register the photo and put rights on it. It is a relatively simple process in which the client goes through less effort. This practice is common in the United States, Canada and Europe. Most times it is the most common method of protection but precautions do need to be taken. Making photo plagiarism difficult can work in two ways- Hidden layers and tiling. The hidden layer approach relies on putting the actual picture in the background along with an image on top of it. When the user tries to download the image, he will get the frontal picture not the actual image. Tiling is slightly more complicated and requires the server to be more efficient. It means saving the image in bits and pieces so the person trying to download the image will only get tiny parts of the whole photo. Watermarking the image is another popular method employed for prevention of photo plagiarism. The user should have a clear idea of which pictures he can and cannot download. It is up to the organization to set these boundaries the violation of which can result in a legal battles.

Search Engine Privacy

It is important to ensure that any web search is not available to a second party. It would not only lead to embarrassment but also potential danger. The search terms typed in by the individual are stored on the web and in case they need to repeat the same term it will automatically pop up. Users need to be careful as to what terms they type in and which search engine they use. Sharing information is common among search engines and learning how to skillfully surf the web is a habit people must learn. For example, one should never disclose bank information to an unknown site he does not recognize. Logging in from various locations especially in wifi areas is a sure fire way to ensure that the details of your account as well the instrument you are using to access the net from will be given out. Using different search engines and proxy servers from time to time is a good idea as the details will be different. However it is also important to keep in mind that the data gets stored in those sites so one must not revisit it too many times.

Social Media Privacy

Social Media privacy differs from site to site. There are some sites which display user information whereas others do not. Most social media sites have terms and conditions regarding the sharing of data which gives third parties access to all the user information. This can be dangerous. Many problems like Identity theft, sexual predation, stalking, unintentional fame, employment and surveillance sprout from a lack in security in these sites. A study carried out by Carnegie Mellon University on identity theft showed that people who displayed their social security numbers and birthdays on social networking sites were more likely to be victims of identity theft. Sexual predation is one of the worst threats in social media. It is a form of verbal harassment in which many cases have been fought and brought to light. Facebook and Myspace are two such sites which try to ensure the safety of the user but they are also the two biggest sites on which people are stalked and troubled online. Youtube, 9Gag and Tumblr are popular video sites where people can freely upload videos of friends, family and other things. It is possible that a video is uploaded without consent and when it goes viral, there is nothing one can do about it. To prevent this, one can encrypt the data which allows a second party to access it.

Big Data Privacy

Big data is a collection of data which cannot be analyzed using conventional methods. It is difficult to collect, tabulate, analyze and organize the data in a simple way since the information comes from either two sets of related data or data from the same set which has been analyzed already. It needs advanced software and data analysis skills to be able to visualize the data and present it. Organizations are currently trying to find effective ways of securing this data and protecting its privacy. With the development of accountable and advanced systems and the encryption of search queries, people can protect their information from outsiders. Setting down some ground rules at the governmental level will prevent most individuals from unethical practices of data accession. Big data can also be manually monitored and individuals can control who can see the data.

Other Risks to Internet Privacy

The internet is a potentially dangerous tool people use freely, completely unaware of the danger. Other than computer thieves, viruses and hackers, there is a plethora of problems. Malwares and Spywares are similar to viruses. They are programs or software which cause harm to the computer and can cause the entire random access memory and hard disk to crash. Trojan horses and rootkits are examples of such malware. A Trojan horse is a malware that allows the user to run a program and leads to many effects like the loss of data or preventing one’s access to private files. A rootkit changes the whole operating system of the computer so that all the programs seem harmless but in reality have already deleted half the data. Email privacy is generally violated by web bugs and Phishing. A Web bug is an unseen tool which stores information and gives it out to a third party without a user's knowledge. Phishing in a way is similar only coming in the form of fake promotions and contests to lure the user into giving private details. Pharming is a common method of redirecting websites to ones which have viruses on it. People hack into databases for various reasons ranging from financial ones to legal ones. It is important to be able to distinguish legal hacking from illegal hacking and that is why taking the necessary precautions is advised while using the internet.

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Public Views on Internet Privacy

There is evidence to counter the wide belief that organizations are the sole victims of identity theft. Studies show that individuals are more likely to have their computers stolen and files accessed by a third party. According to Symantec’s Internet Security Report, the black market is a place for thriving internet identity thefts and information such as social security numbers, account numbers, passwords and emails is shared among users who indulge in such activities. Credit theft is a widespread problem in the United States where people’s credit card information is disclosed and then used for another purpose without their knowledge. This can lead to severe debt. The project ‘Carnivore” set up by the FBI in 2001 was an attempt to mitigate the number of internet criminals in the United States. It helped the police to track and find identity thieves and return stolen identities to victims of identity thefts.

Laws and Regulations of Internet Privacy

For Internet privacy to be an effective campaign, some governmental intervention is required. It could mean manually monitoring the access of individual usage of the internet, but this is time consuming and near impossible. Making laws and regulations which have consequences is an easier way to control internet privacy and diminish the possibility of danger. The Electronic Communication Privacy Act was passed in 1986 and allows the government access to private data without consent. It states that if email messages or any communication among individuals is over six months old, then the government has a right to access it without a warrant. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing Protection Act is one which defines the degree of access to data the government has. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act makes sharing private data and selling it to others a crime punishable by law. Although it has not gained much support, efforts are being made to make changes to it. The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement was a law passed in Asia and is basic copyright laws such as illegal downloading and using proxy servers. In spite of these laws internet security still remains an eminent issue in many countries.

References

1. Online Privacy: Using the Internet Safely – Privacyrights.org https://www.privacyrights.org/online-privacy-using-internet-safely

2. The 5 Biggest Threats to Online Privacy- PCWorld.com http://www.pcworld.com/article/2031908/the-5-biggest-online-privacy-threats-of-2013.html

3. Privacy – GetSafeOnline.com https://www.getsafeonline.org/protecting-yourself/privacy/

4. Identity Fraud and Identity Theft- ActionFraud.police.uk http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/fraud_protection/identity_fraud

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