Our guide to Personal Security on the internet
2013 STOP PRESS: THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BEFORE THE VERY PUBLIC 'EXPOSURE' OF THE WIKI-LEAKS/SNOWDEN AFFAIR REVEALING THE EXTENT OF USA/UK INTERNET SURVEILLANCE. THERE IS THEREFORE NO PUBLIC BROWSER (PGP or SSL and HTTP) THAT IS ENTIRELY FREE OF SNOOPERS FROM OUR OWN GOVERNMENTS (OR OTHER GOVERNMENTS). THIS IS FOR MANY PEOPLE SCIENCE FICTION (BUT BETTER TO BE AWARE OF IT NOW THAN LATER). More on that here.
There are other BIGGER security 'worries' on the internet that everyone should be concerned about as increasingly we live in a 'wired' world...
ONLINE TECHNOLOGY has evolved to collect personal online data automatically from a number of sources and cross relate. It can then be used to create a detailed online profile of your 'real' online personality (totally without your knowledge). This is useful for national security as well standard 'target marketing' of you as a consumer.
UK data legislation (1998) prohibits the sharing of personal data in the UK without a license and even then is severely restricted if it identifies that person to a risk of any kind. The EU is broadly similar. Ref. here.
Some would say that there are many other facets of the internet that are worrying, but these pale into insignificance if the internet itself starts to behave more like a modern version of the vanity mirror.
The book disclosing this is called THE FILTER BUBBLE by Eli Pariser (Penguin Books) and I recommend you read it yourself, rather than rely on my interpretation of a book review. It is more important than that. Andrew Marr (UK journalist) declares it 'Astonishing' and I do admire Andrew Marr as a distinguished UK journalist - with some impartiality. The cusp of the book (and it does go into some detail) is not one of conspiracy theories as such (although there are conspiracies within) but our own acquiescence or surrender of our private lives to a corporations that we have little control over. For UK users this is covered by UK data Protection legislation that UK companies and organisations have to sign up function. However, (and it clear in this book), we give away our most treasured possessions and likes to overseas global companies that then sell that information and use it in ingenious ways that defy belief. ~
If you thought the internet was 'anonymous' then you are in for a bit of a shock. We can all be traced through our habits online. This is in addition to established credit card scoring data, personal data held by Banks and other third parties (such as Mobile Phones) and social networking combined into an entity that is perfectly 'legal'. The most damning indictment of our habits is that we often have no idea where this data goes and we often agree (often by default) that we agree to have our identities bought and sold and often combined with other data to describe our strengths, weaknesses, and desires.
Who do you trust for corporate responsibility? Across continents the data is being shared (irrespective of UK law). The more information you provide or 'give away' online in the minute detail is scored and tallied along with your age, health and occupation and anything you have ever surfed for information. Think about this for a moment. The implications are disturbing..
How this data is used (albeit anonymously at the moment) will not last for long as the nature of the internet and data managing programs can easily sift and collect data on individuals. And it can be shown that 'targeted' advertising is just the start for political polling by stereotype and age + location is just so tempting that we will soon wonder where and how they got all the information about you in particular.
If you do read the book you can gauge yourself how deep you are already 'known' online. The book does make an important point about Society and democracy itself may be damaged by these revelations if we all prefer to live in a profile 'bubble'. Politics and canvassing will certainly be affected if we only know what we are shown selectively in our own 'bubble' - as the Author points out.
Since reading the book I have discovered whilst reading a national newspaper (on something as simple as health insurance for example). As the UK is not allowed to 'discriminate' on many life health issues the alternative (for those inclined to snoop online) is to look at your online 'profile' (easily bought online) and see how it compares with your 'online insurance application' which, say, you have just completed. Such data agencies already exist and the credit card agencies are not the only companies seeking to know about your personal spending habits (or chosen life style). For life Insurance your details would be confirming to support evidence about your 'profile' online (they already know about referring agencies that you have contacted previously, Banks agree to 'co-operate' collectively when you apply for a loan. they will already know your history if you have applied recently online before).
Future employers could start asking for your online 'profile' before considering your job application, (or even your DNA if it exists), nor can you change your profile if it should not match your 'real' self. As it does not 'officially' exist you cannot change it - as it is still considered 'anonymous' information and a private and confidential (but only to the companies collecting the data). You do not own the data or have any rights to it being collected.
This 'anonymous' information attracts adverts based on your spending, your age, your location, your interest and knows your first name and family address. On top of that they will know your IP address and your ISP you use as well as content in your emails (which by law has been approved in the UK at least under national security measures for entirely 'other' reasons). But the information is just added to your 'anonymous' profile. It may be considered 'private' to you but it is for sale commercially to anyone that wants to know or wants to sell you something. Targeting your market is pretty much how the online advertising works and is distributed online. It makes sense to sell shoes to anyone searching for 'shoes' for instance and target that area of business. It is also much cheaper than it used to be to target 'buying' consumers.
Data marketing has been around for some time on the internet (as in other areas of commerce) but up to now it was mostly harmless and could be avoided. Now it will not be an option. If we do not have a 'profile' and have managed to avoid creating one (because we value our privacy above all) it still exists. It is entirely possible that this will eventually lead to a job refusal (or other) discrimination based on details missing (or included) from your perceived online 'profile' (correct or incorrect it cannot be changed). And If you do happen to have a free spending buying 'profile 'those same 'Ads' will now travel with you. They cannot be avoided (wherever you go) - even the high street shops you enter will soon know what you will be buying and may even direct you to mobile 'special offers' on your Internet enabled mobile.
So I would think twice before I sign up to anything remotely called 'social networking' without some security of data (which has to be an international agreement to not sell personal data in the same way as it is developing at the moment). Not all online vendors are guilty but there is no protection outside UK.
I have no connection with the Author at all. It is a book worth reading if you have any concern (as I do) about the direction of data protection and how it is being reduced for a number of reasons outside our control and knowledge. The book is called THE FILTER BUBBLE by Eli Pariser (Penguin Books): http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780141969923,00.html. You will find it in most main BOOK SHOPS (wherever you shop locally) as well as Amazon I expect.
If after reading this book and you are still unconvinced. Take a look here and find out how it DATA TRACKING works. There is currently no data legislation to prevent cross border 'data-harvesting' in the UK or EU and none is being proposed (by any political party) as I write this. It is a grey area that should come under EU data protection but doesn't at the moment (as it requires an international agreement).
At what point an 'anonymous profile' cloned from your personal data becomes 'identity theft' is very close to a breach of internet security in itself. There is no doubt that some benefits are gained from the loss of personal data as 'computers' and 'gadgets' recognise us automatically for convenience. But on the internet this can be exploited with no end of security breaches by those who can do so with no real inconvenience by accessing your profile and tracking your movements remotely for any number of reasons, not all of them commercial. A more sinister aspect is another book by George Orwell called Nineteen Eighty Four which seems to echo in parts what could happen if Security (personal or state) ever gets out of control and becomes an entity in itself, run by a few unallocated individuals or badly run state enterprises is a worry that I hope the UK is thinking about.
Copyright © 2012 Art Services
ADDENDUM - Data theft, is it that common?
To demonstrate some of the points raised in the book (THE FILTER BUBBLE); I shall link to more articles that raise concerns voiced in the book - which worried me further. I am a computer TECHIE - but even I was aghast at what I found using some of my own research from magazines and periodicals on the subject. One SEARCH engine that does not sell user data is DUCKDUCKGO, however even your browser 'plug-ins' (extensions you install) may not be 100% secure and release information by design or by accident.
Many common Browsers offer LIVE FEEDBACK on your viewing habits and interests. (Perhaps of more interest to Google than anybody else) to what you are looking for - is freely donated via the browser window as search history. Its not deletable when you use a SEARCH engine and web pages can track you online when your on site.
Should you be concerned? Even if you have every safety precaution and browser safeguard. You can still be tracked and monitored. This is entirely legal and common practice and 'built-in' to most modern browsers by default.
(1) Check out how easily you can be identified by location see: MY BROWSER INFO.
(2) Check out your browser leaks your internet viewing habits: CLICK CLICK CLICK.
Listen to this VOICEOVER on your browseing whilst online. It will get you worried, it does me!
(3) Check out your browser and router configuration for system leaks: GRC RESEARCH.
Check out your ability to combat common (usually windows) system leaks and router attacks.
Data breach of AOL users: there have been many since then, notably regional NHS records, UK TalkTalk data loss, UK children data records - reported in the National Press as being lost on the London underground by a senior UK civil servant using unencrypted data on a lost USB keyring and laptop). Identity theft is a lot easier when you have age, identity and address. And then AOL have given this (2006) in this (NOT SO SECRET) all the user data away for 'research purpouses' and each and everyone of these search terms are identifiable specifically by location. So beware your data, nothing is secret on the internet for long. Mobile devices have even less security features and are 'open' to advertising and profile acceptance on sign up. There are 'opt-out's but your data is still streamed to third parties with or without your knowledge.
(4) Check out the AOL search terms (from 2006) user search terms: NOT-SECRET
GOOGLE, FACEBOOK and YAHOO are not that far different (as they sell your search terms to advertisers) as well as TRACK your search history and regional location. AOL donated this information which is a very good indicator of what other SEARCH engines can discover about you, without your knowledge.
Updated: 28th August 2017.