Privacy in the Digital Age

The rise of Information Technology has reshaped the world.  News can now spread across the globe in an instant, billions of dollars can be won or lost on a tweet, even the nature of how we travel is being shaped by IT.   Clearly, the advent of the internet and the new forms of communication and collaboration which it has brought have transformed the way people interact and do business.  However, unfortunately not all the internet’s effects have been positive.  It is true that we can now communicate vast amounts of information instantly, but that ability comes at a price: the almost complete loss of privacy for the average person.

Many people have reported experiencing the eerie circumstance of mentioning a product or visiting a store only to be targeted for advertisements for that product later in the same day.  This is not an accident. As the internet has grown in popularity and usefulness, advertisers have quickly realized that the information gleaned from individuals browsing habits could allow opportunities for targeted ads which had never been available before. In addition to cookies and other common tracking techniques, now even your search history can be sold. In a world that is increasingly digital many peoples browsing and search histories are more personal and private than any physical item that they may have.

The rapid adoption of smartphones has provided another opportunity for companies to collect data on their users.  Many commonly used apps track cellphone owner’s movements and provide that information to third-party vendors who then sell it to advertising agencies.  When this combined with information which advertisers get from browsing habits specialized targeted ads become extremely efficient, such as advertising cold medicine when you are sick or advertising a watch after you visit a jewelry store. While this advertising can be extremely useful, most people also find this kind of hyper-targeted ad extremely disquieting as it seems to violate any notion of privacy.

It may feel like we are living in George Orwell’s 1984 (And in many ways we are) but fortunately, there are ways that can reduce your online footprint.  Below are three simple steps you can employ that will significantly improve your privacy.

  1. Use a VPN– VPN’s are “Virtual Private Networks”. A VPN acts as an intermediary allowing you to access websites and other online services through another network, effectively masking your connection. You can even use a VPN to connect from a network in, say, France which can certainly provide a different browsing experience. VPN’s do not make you entirely anonymous, but they do provide significantly more privacy than connecting directly from your network.
  2. Limit Social Media Posting- Social Media has reshaped the way people communicate. However, it has also drastically reduced privacy. Most social media accounts are not using adequate privacy settings which means that anyone in the world with an internet connection can find out all kinds of personal details which would not have been available 30 years ago.  Change your privacy settings, limit what kind of information you post, or delete your accounts altogether.
  3. Turn off location tracking- Some apps, such as google maps, require location tracking to function properly, most, however, do not. Many apps, particularly free ones use location tracking and browsing history tracking to profit in lieu of direct advertising or charging a fee. Delete unnecessary apps and make sure to only enable location tracking when absolutely necessary.
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