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Online Privacy Hiding in The Shadows

How to hide in the shadows from online ad agencies and keep your identity secure from predators.

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So recently it has been brought to my attention that ad agencies are collecting information about consumers, and computer users. As it is no surprise there have also been interviews like this one here: CBS News - How to defend your privacy online the discussion takes the grounds of opting out, or playing a game with ad agencies with your own personal data. The goal of this white-paper is to help you limit the effects of being targeted online with tools, and other sources which can help limit what these agencies know about you.

Blame The Browsers

It's been argued and to some extent it is quite true that the browser you select is the vehicle by which malware, spyware and ad agencies can obtain information about you, your habits and your online life. However, it's also what you associate yourself to regarding your e-mail addressed which we will discuss thorughout this documentation and at a later time. The best approach for hiding information about you is to enable "private" browsing. And, at every chance you get clear your history, cache and cookies from the computer -- as through out other web locations which may share your information this is how they are tracking you.

You can download tools like Firefox Light Beam to discover where you go online and whom is watching you while you surf. Other tools which may help with stopping ad agencies from tracking you are: Fire Fox NoScript which you can set specific methods for protecting your online information. By fine tuning tools such as NoScript you run the availability to limit the information that is being pilfered to at least keep you some what secure -- however, like all methods within information security and privacy there is no silver bullet. Other things you may want to take a look at when providing online security and protection is that of disabling flash media outside of sites you may use. Although doing so may break other appliactions which require flash you can limit the information that is being leaked, and or pilfered through flash in this method, too.

E-mail

With the advent of 1x1 pixel tracking code inserted in e-mails long ago to determine if you've opened an e-mail, or to launch an exploit and gain acces to your computer; e-mail is one of the risks that are being targeted in todays ad agency days as there are big bucks to be made in this type of for-profit driven world. Depending on what e-mail client you are using at the time, or plan to switch to limiting the options for "return receipts", and HTML / Javascript from running within your e-mail is one method to limit the effects of leaking information about you, your purchases and your online habits. Another method that you need to understand is how and what information your e-mail host or service provider will be collecting about you. Sending an e-mail regarding the latest software, or the newest car models will show up on your searches, and in advertisements. To limit this you need to take a good look at what information your e-mail services are collecting and look deep within their Privacy Policies. If there is something within the policies you don't like, you have the option to go with another provider.

One thing that has become a spotlight grabber today was the issue of encrypting information -- with the likes of the NSA gathering information due to the abuses of our current presidential regime and whether or not encryption schematics are easily crackable by government agencies it's still worth a mention in order to keep you secure from being targeted within e-mail through the ad agencies. However, it's become a frowned upon method outside of corporate America (and at times, still dismissed by corporations) Tools like, GnuPG, KGPG, PGP and others which can be integrated into your e-mail clients to send and receive e-mail should be utilized. Albeit a small piece of the puzzle of security and privacy it could help more than it would hurt. Not only would it prevent prying eyes from viewing the contents of your e-mail to and from friends (and maybe some corporations) it will also help you with limiting what others may be gathering about you. The one big issue is where certain companies do not utilize encryption when sending and receiving e-mail about orders, or order inquiries before or after you purchase. The main issue is that when you use encryption software it becomes a "in the way" type of deal that not many people will utilize because it's a small extra step in which you need to do that will allow you to send an e-mail secure. People are getting lazier and lazier as time progresses and unfortunately they are paying the price by doing do -- their private and personal lives.

Social Media

The main issue and concern with social media was "how and where can I find my friends and family." Now it's become how and when can ad agencies find you. It's become quite the "lookup" tool regarding employment, loans and court cases. Not to mention what is going on, on the back-end of such technologies. Be mindful of what you post. With tools like Pix!ti you can limit the information your smart phone, or other devices which record images, or video from leaking geo-graphic location information about you. Furthermore, setting your options and your location data can and will help in some cases.

Not only is your location important to you, and ad agencies, it also becomes important when an entity is attempting a break-in at your location. Knowing the people you add instead of blind firing to have 1 million likes is far more reaching with security than you may think. Social media makes it possible to perform a few things which you may not readily know. 1) Ascretain locations where you may be, or locations you frequent. 2) Make it easier for a home invasion, and an assault / robbery if you are of the boasting kind. 3) Gather information regarding your likes and dislikes to better socially engineer or reverse engineer you using this type of an attack as a vehicle to an even larger one. 4) Gather contact information (phone numbers, e-mail addresses) and conversations. And, other effects of social media.

A few things you should know about social media are as follows. 1) If you are to create an account use a nickname, or a name close to yours. If your full name is Robert James Smith, you can utilize Bob James, Robert James, etc. Providing full details about yourself would make you a quick and easy target for ad agencies and attackers to target you. 2) Limit what you post, and what you do. 3) Full messages with disregard to privacy are one of the things that can be utilized against you. Be mindful of what you share when messaging over the public internet, especially on social media. 4) Think long and hard before you post that status update. No one needs to know your routine, or where you frequent. Also facebook likes to log anything you enter, whether you post or not, and if you do post information and edit it, both versions are cached. This information over a period of time can provide a timeline of habits whether you are aware of it or not. 5) It's cute to have your phone number attached and associated with your social media information -- it makes it easier for friends to find you. Yeah! Right. Never post your information regarding anything personal. If you need to register for social media, create a new e-mail address and have that e-mail address associated with that account rather than using your personal e-mail. This can have a few uses that are far reaching than just productivity.

Your Smart Phone is Smarter... Or At least It Thinks So

Be mindful of the applications you install on your smart phone. Applications such as a flashlight that require more than just access to your camera is a red-flag. Why should a flash light application require access to your phone book, or call status, etc? Ad agencies. Allowing this to be installed is basically giving a stranger keys to inside your home. Not only does this affect how you do things online, it becomes a privacy concern when you are being tracked and this information falls into the wrong hands. A simple breach may expose hundreds of thousands of records and place you at risk of being targted.

If you don't need the application, don't install it. Read the privacy information and more so, read the access levels that it needs before you install it. If you have the availability of installing anti-virus, or other types of security solutions on your phone DO SO! A lack of protection applications on anything with a chip is a problem waiting to happen. You are placing the target on your back and aiming the arrow directly where it needs to be.

Considering the woes of installing applications you are omitting one thing. Most applications and application developers need to make money. It's what enables us to create software and put food on the table. Applications that support ads to generate revenue should be avoided at all costs. Why? Because the information they may obtain may be utilized against you.

Where You Do Business

It is true that where and with whom you do business can be a great thing or a nightmare. In todays day and age regarding privacy the privacy policy can be a great thing which may enable you to have some foresight into what a company may do with your data at that given time. And, most companies will change their privacy statements and how they collect your data over the period in which you do business with them. Just look at facebook. It's been changed so many times for the owner to make money than was to protect our own safety. If you see, read or hear something you don't like research the matter. If at all possible disassociate from the business and take your hard earned cash elsewhere.

Limiting Information Leakage

If you are to open up a social media account, or any accounts where you need to access a service, or online entity you should have a few e-mail addresses already setup. Especially if you are accessing information on web sites that you may never frequent again. You can use online services which allow you or enable you to utilize disposable e-mail addressess, or register addresses for the sole purpose of non-personal events, or issues. The other thing you can do to protect or help protect your information and data is to obtain pre-paid credit cards which you can fill and utilize which do not require a name, or address if you are ordering items from online. In this case most items that you order online you have the availability of ordering under an assumed name, and therefore throwing the ad agencies off. Other things you can do is to obtain tools which enable you to provide "false" searches which do not mean anything to you. E.g: Software that sits on the computer and searches in the background as to drown out your likes and information which may be useful for targeted ads from an agency or company. In any case with this scheme you don't have to worry about getting your information off the listings if in the event that they have obtained any information on you.


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