Every time we access the internet, we’re leaving a trail of information about ourselves. Even if you’re aware of this—maybe you’ve noticed targeted advertising or have heard about governments tracking internet usage—you may not really realize what a danger it is to blithely share your personal information with all these strangers around the globe. But if you’re not careful, you’re risking everything from legal repercussions to identity theft.
Let’s take a look at what’s happening and what you can do to prevent sharing too much information about yourself.
Types of Shared Information
There are three main types of information about you that are floating around out there. The first and most obvious one is volunteered information. When you post information about yourself on forums, social media sites, and other places, you’re voluntarily giving up information about yourself, which often includes things like your name, age, location, interests, and more. But it goes even further than that: Google also scans your emails looking for keywords so they can target advertising at you.
The second type of data is observed data. Every time you access websites, they collect information about you via cookies—packets of information that your computer shares with the site. Cookies are meant to enhance your browsing experience since they tell the site how many times you’ve visited the site in the past, which pages you spent the most time on, which other sites you visit frequently, and any login details that you need for the site. But not all the information sites collect are things that are necessary for your browsing experience.
The third type of data is inferred data. Companies collect your volunteered information and observed data and make hypotheses about things that you might be interested in based on your interests and demographic. And although this might sound like it doesn’t work very well, it can actually be frighteningly accurate.
What is it Worth?
Believe it or not, your personal information isn’t really worth that much at face value. But you may not really be comfortable with the idea that some company has access to information about you that you meant to keep private. Beyond that, it can be frustrating to know that you’re getting only a skewed version of the internet; because each time you use a search engine and each time you view a page that advertises for something else, you’re only seeing results that are targeted to you based on this inferred data. And the more information that’s out there about you, the easier it is for hackers to gain access to everything from your email account to your financial data. These are all important reasons why you should still take the necessary precautions to limit what information is out there about you.
Limiting the Volunteered Information
One of the easiest ways to limit the information that’s out there about you is to actively limit what you’re sharing. Don’t share all of your personal details on your social media accounts; do you really need to check in to places and things like that? Of course, it’s all well and good to want to share information about your life, but remember that every time you do so, it’s not private to you and your friends but can actually be seen by anyone who wants to obtain that information. You may also want to look into encrypting your emails—especially ones containing important data—so that they can’t be read by your service provider, hackers, or anyone else who doesn’t have access to your key.
Using a VPN
One of the best lines of defense available to you is the use of a virtual private network, or VPN. A VPN limits the amount of information your computer shares with the sites you’re accessing, and it even goes so far as to hide your IP address, meaning sites don’t even really know where you’re from! This means sites will no longer see information that isn’t directly relevant to the site you’re accessing; they won’t know things about your personal information or browser history, etc. Of course, the better the VPN, the more secure your connection will be. You’ve got plenty of options out there; you can explore your options and choose from some of the best where they’re compiled at either Secure Thoughts or TechPP.
Although it’s great that the world is so interconnected these days, the amount of information that’s floating around out there can be a bit alarming; it can affect everything from your personal finances to your ability to get a job. It’s important to realize that you’re sharing a lot more information than you probably even realize, and that all this information sharing can be dangerous for you. Make sure you stay up-to-date with what’s going on and do your best not to compromise your personal information.
~ Cassie Phillips