January 23, 2013

Think Your Internet Usage is Private? Think Again. 

Big brother is watching. You are not alone. You are being monitored. Your internet usage, in the privacy of your own home, is not your own personal business as you may believe. Companies, websites, hackers, criminals and even governments are watching your every step.

Privacy advocates and law enforcement agencies have expressed serious concern over the rapid loss of privacy on the internet. Data mining and your own personal data, interests, public records and internet usage is big business, and companies like Google and Facebook are making millions and millions of dollars by collecting, distributing and/or selling your private information. The goal is to know more about you, to sell the data to marketers and in some cases, provide the private information to government agencies without your consent, and without a court order. The loss of privacy is happening at an alarming rate.

Facebook recently went public on the very idea that their huge user database and information on their millions of subscribers is worth a lot of money. That's right, thanks to all your sharing, Facebook stands to make a fortune! And that is just one of example among thousands. Reputable international private investigators say to think twice about what you share on the internet. They say no site is 100% immune from fraud and scams, and what you share online with your contacts, may eventually be seen, sold or published without your knowledge.

Your Internet Profile Can Put You at Risk.

Law enforcement officials and private investigators are seeing more cases involving crimes that originate online. And we're not talking about just identity theft, and other online scam cases. Police departments across the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia agree that many criminals first research their victims online, using sites like Google Maps to see where you live, see what your house looks like, and even what kind of car you drive. They may use sites like 123People.com, Whitepages.com, Intelius, MyLife.com or countless others to gather your personal data such as your date of birth, address, neighborhood information, names of your siblings, children, spouse, etc. These sites profit from gathering and selling your public records and private data without your consent or knowledge.

Criminals take full advantage of the information they find about you on the internet.

There have been incidents of rapes and homicides involving individuals who met on sites like Facebook, Match.com or eHarmony, and later met in person a sex offender or criminal. They failed to have a background check investigation conducted on their online partner, and later suffered the consequences. In other cases, victims have travelled abroad to meet their online romance, later to be abducted and held for ransom in places as far away as West Africa and the Philippines. Of course, these are extreme examples but they are very real. The bottom line is the internet is a tool increasingly used by everyone, including criminals.


How to Stay Safe, Protect Your Privacy 


Websites and companies want to track your every move. Not to mention ISP (Internet Service Providers) government agencies and who knows what other agencies and entities are watching. They install and track the cookies on your computer, record your IP address, and essentially have your number or online fingerprint. From that point on, you are recognized whether you like it or not, and your at internet surfing is not as private as you think. 

Experts say you can stay safe by using programs to conceal and protect your identity, and also new websites that are actually designed to protect your privacy, like HotSpot Shield and Tor keep your surfing activity anonymous, so companies and other websites can't track your location, identity or IP address. You can also check your browser settings in Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome or Safari to disable cookies, usually found under the Options settings. These steps not only protect your privacy, but keep you safe online and offline. The less criminals can find out about you on the internet, the safer you and your family are, say investigators. Keep your online sharing to a minimum.

The more criminals can find about you online, the more at risk you are for identity theft, phishing scams, hacking, and real world crimes such as robbery, assault, harassment, etc.

Install a good anti-virus program such as AVG or Norton to keep threats at a minimum, and scan your computer for potentially harmful programs installed without your knowledge. Sites like Reputation.com also help consumers keep their online footprint small, and help you remove unwanted information from public view, and take down data from third party websites.

Lastly, reputable private investigators say keep sharing to a minimum, and NEVER publish your date of birth or address or other private data on the internet, no matter what the site. Doing so is asking for trouble. Remember that what you share online may end up in the wrong hands, or be sold down the river, without your knowledge or legal consent.

All the best,

S. Birch
© 2013 S. Birch

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This copyrighted article was written and published by the editor and site author, S. Birch, or other guest private investigator, expert or contributor as stated.