In today’s ever-evolving digital world, protecting your privacy may seem like an impossible task.
But before you begin incorporating methods that will help protect your personal privacy, it is important to note the stark differences between protecting privacy and becoming fully anonymous. Short of living on a deserted island, it is nearly impossible to become fully anonymous. However, when you incorporate the best practices of personal privacy in your life, it is possible to maintain a level of privacy that can act as a barrier between yourself and the rest of the world.
When you become conscious of the fact that you need to increase your personal privacy, the best place to start is on the Internet. Since Google is the world’s most popular search engine, you should begin by Googling your name alongside your city, state or country in order to see what is publically listed about you online. You might be alarmed at what you find within these search results.
Websites such as Peekyou, MyLife and other people-finding services buy up information from companies that you have associated with in the past. This data enables these companies to build a profile on you that is sold to whoever wishes to buy it. Websites such as MyLife may list your name, age, location and closest relatives publically for the world to see. When someone wishes to dig even deeper, they can pay a nominal fee which will provide them with your address, your phone number and even your past or current employer. With a few keystrokes and a couple of clicks, someone could know all about you and your family without ever meeting face to face.
What can you do to combat this gross intrusion of your family’s privacy? The proactive solution is easy. When registering for online services that do not require any form of payment, simply sign up for a “junk” email account and use that email account alongside a fictitious name and mailing address in order to complete the registration process. If you would like to get more advanced, you could rent a mailbox at the post office and list this address as your mailing address for websites that legitimately need your real location.
If you are looking for a reactive solution, you can manually request that websites such as MyLife take down your personal info. There is typically a link at the bottom of the page that allows you to make this request. You could always email the company directly and request that this information is removed. If you are concerned about your social media past, you could always nuke your social media accounts. It is important to note that you cannot trust social media platforms such as Facebook to protect your privacy no matter how many privacy functions are built into the platform. If you choose to utilize social media platforms, please be aware that you are in no way using these platforms anonymously and your personal information is being retained so that corporations can market to you.
There are online services that specialize in deleting every trace of your existence found inside search engine results. JustDelete.me is a good starting resource for this task. Reddit also has a nice write up on how to remove yourself and your family from people finding websites. Just be aware that once something is published online, archives of this data are probably available in some way, shape or form.
Smartphones: Weighing the Risks
In 2013, Pew research found that 91 percent of American adults have access to a smartphone. If you are truly trying to protect your privacy, you must first ask yourself if you actually need a smartphone. While there is no argument that cellular devices are easily one of the least secure methods of communication, smartphones take this a step further by incorporating popular apps that often have overreaching privacy policies. Users typically skip over the privacy agreements by clicking “yes” in order to proceed with installation of the app. The consequences of arbitrarily clicking “yes” could mean that you are giving the app permission to capture pictures using your phone’s camera while charting your current location on a map in order for the world to potentially see.
An additional security concern relating to smartphones is the practice of mobile devices being maliciously preprogrammed with spyware before it leaves the factory. Since the majority of electronics are being manufactured in China, rouge criminal elements can influence low-paid factory workers who will insert the malicious code before the smartphone is packaged. The AP recently detailed the process in which smartphones are being preprogramed with spyware inside Chinese factories. The article mentions that security analysts see this practice happening more frequently.
If you are required to carry a smartphone, it is important to be cognizant of all of the privacy risks involved with using such devices. Low-tech cell phone cases have been developed that block network interactions with the device when it is not in use. When the mobile device needs to be used, the cell phone can be removed from the case and it will function as normal.
Certain metadata can be gathered from mobile devices that are connected to wireless networks. For example, when you take pictures with your mobile device, some cameras encode the pictures with EXIF data which can give away the time, date and exact coordinates of when and where the picture was taken. When you send photographs taken on mobile devices over wireless networks, the EXIF data is also transmitted which can give away your exact coordinates. It is possible to strip metadata from mobile photos by utilizing open source, freeware utilities that are designed for this specific task. At Wikipedia, workers have created a list of the top EXIF data manipulation tools for your review.
Automatic Licenses Plate Readers: A Threat to Personal Privacy?
The invention of devices such as the automatic license plate reader is a direct result of computing technology rapidly declining in price over the past decade. What is an automatic license plate reader? Commonly used by law enforcement, a license plate reader is a device that is typically set up near a major thoroughfare that takes high resolution pictures of a car’s license plates using motion sensors as a trigger. The device uses OCR technology which converts the letters and numbers within the image into text that can be entered into a database. Once the license plate numbers, time and location are entered into the database, law enforcement can query this data on demand. While this technology certainly has some pros, you have to ask yourself about the cons.
For example, what if this technology were to get into the wrong hands? What if the technology produces inaccurate results which inadvertently make you the center of a police investigation? What if corporations begin harvesting this data? There seems to be more questions than answers regarding ALPR technology.
The easiest way to prevent your vehicle from being entered into an automatic license plate reader database is to take measures to protect your license plate. SunflexZone has recently introduced multiple product lines that directly combat the implementation of ALPRs. SunFlexZone has created license plate covers that produce a glare over your license plate if a camera were to try and capture a picture for its database. SunFlexZone also has a more advanced product that “emits a high intensity IR light that is projected onto the plate and effectively blinds the device’s camera.”
Some jurisdictions have outlawed plastic license plate covers for cars. Other jurisdictions may deem plastic license plate covers as an excuse to pull you over late at night due to your license plate not being adequately illuminated. SunFlexZone’s products are designed to prevent this from happening while simultaneously protecting your personal privacy.
How do you protect your privacy in a digital world? Tell us in the comments section below.