Online Privacy Threats and How to Stay Private on the Web
Updated on July 13, 2021: From now on, traffic filtering, malware protection, and suspicious DNS activity blocking are available as a part of the separate DNS Firewall app.
Our digital foot- and fingerprints grow in numbers as technologies evolve. This makes us all increasingly vulnerable to data breaches, identity fraud, and other internet threats. Failing to preserve our anonymity can lead to an array of issues, from financial loss to cyberbullying. Our online privacy has become a crucial subcategory of data privacy nowadays. No wonder it’s the talk of the town!
Alas, as much as the average netizen may be aware of the importance of it, people too often place personal convenience above online privacy. Another issue is that we often think that, as individuals, we’re too small a target. Lastly, only a few seem to realize the critical difference between privacy and security. We hope this piece will help you break the mold and figure out the greatest online privacy threats!
- The difference between online privacy and online security
- Social media-related online privacy threats
- Terms of service-related online privacy threats
- How to protect your privacy online
The difference between online privacy and online security
Though closely linked, online privacy and online security have some key differences. To understand the difference between the two, remove the word “online”. Privacy is all about keeping information out of public. What’s personal is kept personal, including certain aspects of your life. Security is more about protection from all sorts of threats, and the feeling of safety. When you’re secure, you’re free from dangers that could potentially happen to you.
From this, it’s easy to define the differences between privacy and security measures. If you don’t want strangers peeking through your windows, you use curtains and blinds (protecting privacy). If you don’t want thieves breaking in, you lock your doors and close the front gate (protecting security).
In the internet context, these terms work pretty much the same. Online privacy is about your right and ability to own the information you generate and to limit its outward flow if you wish to keep it personal. Online security, in turn, is about safeguarding your data and internet-connected devices from cyber threats like phishing, identity fraud, and malware.
Social media-related online privacy threats
Let’s take a look what are the privacy risks an individual can face on social media.
Data leakage and identity theft
Tens of millions of people suffer from identity theft and data leakages on a yearly basis, which further leads to even more dangerous fraudulent situations. Financial organizations and other companies that handle customers’ confidential information are trying to take steps to protect it, but to moderate effect. In spite of these preventive measures, hackers still manage to attain plenty of information. Who knows, maybe your private information is next in their crosshairs?
Risks of social sharing
Social media websites like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram offer users to share their current locations when posting pictures. This is quite convenient for avid posters, but it also helps social media criminals collect information about the person and build whole profiles on users.
Idle or unattended accounts
Some people create accounts on various social media platforms only because their friends or colleagues are there, and then leave them unattended for a long time. Idle social media accounts are an easy and tasty target for hackers, allowing them to keep posting whatever false posts or messages under your name. Some will even try to contact your colleagues and friends to collect their personal info.
Handling unsecured devices leaves you highly exposed to the risk of a privacy breach through your social media accounts. Hackers can easily get into devices that don’t have protection like firewall, anti-virus, or encryption, and leech a lot of private information this way. Smartphones are, for one, highly susceptible to this, as you access your social media profiles on them using just a single app.
Terms of service-related online privacy threats
Let’s face it: nobody reads terms of service, license agreements, privacy policies, online contracts, and other agreements. Even though we say we do, obediently clicking on the respective buttons and checking the respective boxes, it’s “the biggest lie on the internet”.
The thing is, many netizens would pause before clicking “I Agree” if they knew what can be found in those contracts. For instance, giving web-based services, along with any third parties the services contract with, the right to gather, analyze and sell their personal data. Another issue is people clicking away their right to go to court if something goes wrong, basically negating consumer protection law.
What causes Terms of Service-related online privacy threats?
It’s not like the users’ negligence is to blame. The very design of click-to-agree contracts often nudges the reader to follow a habit that years of clicking on “accept” have instilled. EULA’s ubiquity is also a problem – for an average US netizen, reading through digital contracts would take about 250 hours a year. That’s quite an exhausting burden.
Not only that, but it’s also hardly reasonable. It’s not like an average Joe is in a position to negotiate his own separate agreement with Google, Twitter, or Facebook, so why even bother? You can neither change nor refuse this contract (especially if it’s a service that you need to use on a daily basis).
How to protect your privacy online
There’s a number of measures one can employ to ensure they stay private and anonymous on the internet.
Use strong passwords
A strong password is vital if you want to prevent your social media account from getting hacked. To make the password strong and difficult to crack, apply an alphanumeric pattern in combination with some symbols. If done correctly, it heavily reduces the chances of your account being hacked.
Avoid suspicious messages and requests
To stay away from frauds and scams, avoid accepting friend requests and clicking any links in messages from unknown people on social media. It is a sure and simple way to avoid many social media privacy-related risks and dangers.
Invest in security and privacy software
Such software includes firewall, anti-virus, and VPN services. Quite conveniently, the latest protects from both social media and terms of service privacy threats. A good VPN software such as VPN Unlimited encrypts your data (rendering it unreadable to unauthorized parties) and masks your IP address (hiding your real address and anonymizing your online activities).