With accessing online information becoming a necessity, it has become very easy for thieves to steal your identity and personal information and use it for nefarious purposes. Protecting the information that you share on public platforms is of paramount importance.
How your personal information is tracked by websites
Most sites that let you access public information or put goods and services up for sale use bits of code, called cookies, to store your web browsing habits. They would typically capture details such as the time you spend on a site, a particular piece of content or product, how much time you spend looking at an advertisement, the sequence of clicks you make before buying an item, site preferences, return visits and so on. More intrusive sites will gather information that you share with social media platforms such as your age, gender, geographical location, the list of sites that you have bookmarked on your internet browser, the list of sites you have already visited in a single session and so on. Significantly, some sites will also save information such as your debit or credit card number, ostensibly for the purposes of saving you the effort of typing this data repeatedly every time you make a purchase. Other sites will attempt to bait you towards products that their sponsors are trying to sell by identifying patterns of online behaviour with known psychological profiles.
The perils of online activity
More and more employers are profiling your digital footprint with predictive models that tell them whether you will be a safe investment or not. Governments can trace your social media activity to decide whether you are for or against certain policy initiatives. More sinister is the fact that you can be manipulated based on tried and tested techniques to feed your hidden biases and engage your personal time with debates and activities that put a shadow on real issues that affect you.
Pervasive and intrusive social media
Facebook is a well-known social media platform that is known to be excessively intrusive. Even mobile apps entice you to give up personal information with the threat of you not being able to use its functionalities unless you share. Then there is the question of internet trolls.
Minimise your digital footprint
Fortunately, there are tools available that help you manage the quantity and type of information you share online. Most users forget to use privacy settings on their browser. It may be convenient but not practical to not delete cookies and browsing history after every session. You can use ‘Ad blockers’ to bar intrusive scripts. It will take some effort and engagement to check your Google privacy settings, Linkedin, Yahoo, Facebook and other email and social data settings to ‘uncheck’ the options that legally permit these portals to save your browsing habits. Take no heed of how much they dress up these activities with attractive words. Google will typically track every search and keywords you type in or speak at your microphone, especially if you’re logged in. Googling yourself by name will tell you part of the results that are public information against your name. Use secondary emails to subscribe to intrusive platforms or apps. Never save passwords on your computer or smartphone. These are paltry measures compared to the number of ways in which your digital footprint is traced. But it’s a step in the right direction to ensuring a safe, healthy and private future.
BY- Pradipto Chakrabarty, The writer is regional director, CompTIA India