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.