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Big Brother is Watching: How to Protect Your Privacy

Posted On   date03/11/2014

Big Brother is Watching: How to Protect Your Privacy

There is always buzz in the news about so-called “Big Brother”, a.k.a. the government, keeping an eye on the people. The intention is supposedly a good one, to help protect citizens from terrorism and other criminal acts.  So we are told.  But it can also interfere with civil liberties, freedom and quickly cross into a gray area of privacy invasion versus protection.  These days, it is clearly privacy and freedoms that are at risk of disappearing in the face of big government.  If you haven’t read Brave New World or 1984, perhaps now would be a good time.  Think the brilliant mathematician Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) is crazy?  He may be, but his predictions on the loss of privacy from expanding technology were surprisingly accurate.

Personal habits may also be closely monitored, often for marketing and sales information for a variety of companies. Your vital information is stored on both private and public databases, making access easy for creditors and employers, and unfortunately criminals as well.  If you use the internet, you are essentially being watched, recorded and your information is being sold or stored for future use.  It isn’t a secret that this information is out there, but what can be done to keep your personal privacy safe?

Computer Safety

Some reports have surfaced that government agencies can turn on your computer’s webcam without your knowledge. This seems a bit extreme, and there would likely be reasons they would monitor certain individuals, possibly prior criminal activity or ties to criminal groups, but it is still possible. Simply enough it is recommended to cover your webcam with tape. Other easy solutions to prevent your information making it into the hands of the wrong people is frequently changing your passwords, avoiding delivering information (such as social security or credit card numbers) in non-secure ways, and avoiding opening unknown emails which may contain viruses. Take a few extra minutes to determine the legitimacy of a request — it could really save you time in the end.  Check your browser settings to make sure your cookies and cache are cleared every time you close your browser.  Having no internet history is a huge step is staying safe online.   This step alone is excellent and easy tool.

Data Verification

It’s safe to assume that all of the data collected and recorded is not necessarily accurate. In order to protect yourself make sure that you review the information you can find about yourself. A great place to start is with your credit report because most significant financial transactions will be displayed there. Several companies advertise credit reporting and monitoring services, often for a fee. But thanks to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) you are entitled to one free credit report per year, so schedule a yearly reminder and get in the habit of staying informed. Not only will you become more educated with your credit obligations and potential negative impacts, but you can also take the opportunity to clean things up and dispute any inaccuracies.  But, there is far more to be concerned about than just your credit.  So-called public records are being bought, collected, sold, shared and distributed across the internet, putting you and your family at risk.  Search the web for your name and information, and see how much is out there about you.  Then, prepare a long battle to get it all removed if possible.  The less about you online, the safer you are.

Snail Mail

Even in a savvy and technology obsessed society, “junk” mail is still a popular way to reach consumers. Just as sales organizations target you based on your internet habits, they will buy and sell your information, typically your name and address, and flood your mailbox with ads. You do have the right to opt-out, but a small percentage of people have or make the time to do this. Other information about your lifestyle habits are available to businesses in order to prescreen the leads they are paying for. These include your level of wealth, life events such as marriage or the birth of a child, and even medical issues you have experienced. Be mindful of whom you give information to and know the ways to be removed from lists.  For increased safety, consider other forms of mail or contact, such as snail mail or even meeting in person for important conversations.

Social Media

Similar to other marketing initiatives, you have the option to alter your settings and retain a bit of privacy on social media sites. It goes without saying that if someone subscribes to social media, they are already taking a risk given the public platform that these programs are based upon. Keep in mind that you can limit some of the viewing. If you want only close “friends” to see pictures of your children and every restaurant and city you visit, you will need to make privacy modifications. Generally default settings do not provide the most private options. At the very least your social life could be on display for potential employers, which may not be wise depending on your desired profession. There are a lot of things that we can’t control, just be aware of information that is available to others and be smart about the personal information you divulge.  Criminals love when their victims post information on social networks, especially when they are on vacation, their dates of birth, and other valuable data.

Know the Risks

In a perfect world, you could share all the information you wanted online, and use all kinds of social networks and even online dating safely, with little or no risk.  Unfortunately, we live in a different world where identity theft, harassment, assault, burglaries, romance scams, government intrusion, IRS targeting, internet fraud, hacking and countless other threats are only getting worse.  Minimize your online footprint, check privacy settings on everything you can.  Set up a separate email address for websites, companies and people you don’t know personally.  Share less online.  Provide false data when possible, and pay in cash.  To be safe, you should do more to keep the government out of your business.

C. Wright
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