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What is Internet Privacy?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 16, 2024
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As people use computers for a variety of purposes, confidential information, confidential communications, and personal choices can be registered in a variety of ways. Internet privacy is a broad term referring to the various concerns, technologies, and strategies for protecting information, communications, and choices that are meant to be private.

In general, using the Internet often means giving up some measure of privacy. For people who wish to remain completely anonymous, the best approach is to use a public computer, such as those available at public libraries. Other steps to take when anonymity is the goal include clearing the cache and browsing history before leaving the computer — this is done in different ways depending on the browser used — and refraining from entering any personal information or creating any user names or passwords.

If you choose to shop online, use social networking sites, play online games, or participate in forums, Internet privacy can become an issue in a number of ways. If your passwords are exposed, your identity can be fraudulently used or even stolen. If your words, photographs of you, or products you have created are posted without your permission, your reputation and income can be damaged. If your contact information is passed around, you may be subject to spam. If your browsing history becomes public, people will know what you’ve been looking at online. Fortunately, taking certain precautions can reduce the privacy risks that you face.

Strong passwords that are kept secret are one way to safeguard your Internet privacy. The strongest passwords have certain characteristics: they have no personal information, they don’t use real words, they combine upper and lowercase characters with numbers, and they are at least eight characters long. It is important to note, however, that the strongest password does no good if someone else can access it. This can happen if you write it down, allow someone else to use your computer, or use a computer in a public place, where your data could be intercepted with keystroke logging devices, or re-used if you fail to clear the cache.

Browser privacy settings, which control elements like storage of your browsing and download history and the acceptance of cookies, are there for you to alter to meet your preferences. The options differ with different browsers. Similarly, social networking sites have settings to allow you to control the level of privacy of various postings you may make. Note that the default settings may be skewed towards the public exposure of information rather than towards Internet privacy. Facebook has been criticized on this point.

For sites such as forums, make sure you read the privacy terms before signing up. In forums, your main choice usually is to become a participant, often with an email address attached to your user name, which may or may not be your real name. As an alternative, you may be able to take advantage of guest privileges, if they are offered, or be limited to reading, but not posting.

Internet security experts frequently remind users that they should consider a public posting on the Internet to have an eternal life. Even if you take it down, it may already have been cached, backed up, and indexed by a web search engine. In the interests of maintaining your Internet privacy, it’s best to think twice before posting in the first place.

Accidental violation of Internet privacy can also occur. This would be the case if somebody accidentally or unthinkingly forwarded an email to multiple parties that was only meant for one person, or neglected to omit a personal comment from the sender before resending. Though this can best be avoided by rigorously separating work and personal emails, this is not always a practical solution. Careful attention and discretion are the only real safeguards.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for EasyTechJunkie, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By KoiwiGal — On Mar 22, 2014

@pastanaga - Unfortunately, that isn't really true. Even the average person has to be worried about their privacy in a world where people are bored and have too much time to spare on the internet. Look at all those women who have been targeted by so-called "revenge porn" sites. Angry ex-boyfriends manage to break into private emails and take photos, which they sometimes alter into naked photos and send to family and workmates of their target.

Then there are the people who make viruses that can take control of your computer so the camera turns on and they can watch you in your own home. That sounds like science fiction, but it happens all the time.

Then there is the fact that many websites keep tabs on every single thing you do online for marketing purposes. If you are falsely accused of something like terrorism, it might suddenly not look so innocent that you were shopping for camping gear and you could get into trouble.

Internet privacy policies are important to even the average person and pretending that being average will protect you is not a good idea.

By pastanaga — On Mar 21, 2014

@Fa5t3r - The average person doesn't really need it though. The whole point was that he had committed a crime and they were hunting him down. I think we should be protecting internet privacy to a point, but most people are fully protected simply because they are anonymous, law abiding people. No one cares enough to persecute them.

By Fa5t3r — On Mar 20, 2014

Even people who take a lot of precautions and should know what they are doing can still slip up when it comes to internet privacy. There was that student a while ago who tried emailing in a bomb threat in order to stop one of his exams from going ahead so he would have more time to study. He used a public computer and he used a throwaway email address, but they still managed to track him down and take legal action against him.

I mean, I think it's a good thing that they caught him, of course, but if someone who is doing their best to provide themselves with internet privacy protection can't manage it, then the average person isn't going to have any at all.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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