Three Internet Privacy Misconceptions

I was having a conversation with my dad last night, he had a lot of stupid misconceptions about privacy and the Internet. Even simple things like IP addresses and firewalls… people don’t quite understand them. So, i thought it would be a great subject to discuss. Of course, this is NOT a comprehensive list, just some basic thoughts.

Misconception #1:
Everything you do on the internet is anonymous

NO NO NO! This is such a lie… any time you go to a website and use their resources, the operator has the opportunity to record information (while may not be necessarily personally identifying) about you. The problem is, visiting a website is kind of like visiting a department store: if you walk in, they have a right to record you to safeguard their assets. Same thing with a website: when you contact a server, you are visiting their “department store”, and they can (and will) record information about your visit. If someone gets enough information about you, they can potentially identify you — the AOL search fiasco is a great example of this.

Misconception #2: Firewalls safeguard your privacy

Not completely true. See, using the internet is sorta like calling people on a telephone and talking back and forth. Generally speaking, a firewall does not usually interfere with you calling people. It is designed to stop people from calling YOU. While a firewall is definitely a good thing to have and can stop some types of viruses/spyware, I find a lot of times people give them too much credit/abilities — just like antivirus. Personally, I advocate that people should use a hardware firewall such as a router or other such device, they tend to be more reliable at protecting you than software firewalls (and consume less resources) in my opinion… but thats a whole different story…

Misconception #3: You have an implicit right to privacy on the Internet

The thing is, you don’t. The internet is a public network, and when you do something on the Internet, then you are doing things in public where anyone can ‘see’ you. This is because when you connect to a site, you’re really using a number of different computers to connect to that computer, and they can all potentially record information about your connection. Expecting privacy on the internet is like getting naked in the middle of a field and expecting that nobody can watch: you can only get privacy if there are walls or some other barriers. Keeping with that analogy, THERE ARE NO WALLS ON THE INTERNET (by default, at least). The biggest problem is that since people can’t see the walls, they assume that they exist, and they don’t.

With all of this said, there are definitely ways to safeguard your privacy on the internet, its just a matter of how paranoid you are. Programs like Tor or certain Firefox features can make your Internet experience more anonymous and secure — but the Internet is not secure or anonymous by default.

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