With such a heavy reliance on the Internet for all sorts of interactions and transactions and the many ways people are connected via their mobile or desktop devices, is it possible to remain invisible online?
While this might be a challenge for many, there are ways for privacy-obsessed users to leave as little a trace as possible when venturing into cyberspace.
Users should first re-evaluate what's important to them when it comes to privacy, says Frank Ahearn, a privacy expert and author of the book "How to Disappear."
"Is it OK that apps have access to their GPS [global positioning system] location, their camera, photos and phone book?" Ahearn says. "Privacy is an odd sort of thing. It is not tangible, and sometimes out-of-sight leads to out-of-mind."
Still, it's important to consider when people use a medium owned or operated by a third party, such as the Internet, an elevator with a camera or a mobile app that requires connectivity. "We need to accept that there presently is no privacy in those circumstances," Ahearn says. "Therefore, it is less about maintaining and more about personal awareness."
Internet users can better protect their privacy online "by thinking of their private information as gold; do not give it away," Ahearn says. "Place a personal value on private information and recognize that sites want to profit [from] the information they extract. The best way to combat that is to supply untrue information. Deception has a positive purpose in the digital world," and in fact is the best ally a user has to truly protect his online information.
Ahearn is not a believer in privacy software and similar tools. "We do not know if anonymizers or privacy email sites work or are telling the truth about their services," he says. "The average person cannot tell a real Babe Ruth signature from a fake, nor can the average person test if software or Web sites are truthful in their claim."
The only way not to be tracked online is to not make a connection, Ahearn says. An example he cites is the use of a prepaid mobile phone.
"The idea is when a user makes a call their identity is not known since no identifiers are attached to the phone," Ahearn says. "This is half-right. When the user purchased the phone from the store, the transaction was captured on camera and so they are connected to the phone. An identity can be discovered from this action." If the user sent someone else to make the purchase, that person would be connected to the phone."
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