What are real world online privacy concerns?

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cartoon of a security analyst watching multiple monitors

Here is a high-level overview of privacy-specific topics I'll write in-depth articles about over the summer.

When using the internet, we need to take care of our privacy like keeping our personal information safe and not letting others spy on what we do online in the following ways:

  1. Giving away too much information: Sometimes when we use apps or websites, they ask us for personal information like our name, address, and phone number. But if we give away too much information, other people might be able to steal it or use it for bad things.

  2. Being tracked online: When we use the internet, there are ways for companies to track what we do and where we go online. This can be used to show us ads or sell our information to other people, but it could also be used more nefariously.

  3. Getting hacked: Sometimes bad people try to hack into our devices like our phones or computers. If they're successful, they can steal our passwords or other sensitive information. Or they can cause us to lose valuable documents (to us) that could be devastating for our school assignments, work deadlines, or tax due dates.

  4. Using public Wi-Fi: When we use public Wi-Fi, like at a coffee shop or library, it's important to be careful because other people on the same Wi-Fi network could see what we're doing online.

    It's also prudent to ensure you are not sharing files or folders with the local network when you leave trusted local area networks (LANs). Even the name of your laptop or device could provide a social engineer information that can lead to a nasty surprise.

    I will be writing about how to shore up your security and privacy practices and tools for public Wi-Fi use in a later post.

  5. Being monitored at work or school: If we use a computer or phone that belongs to our school or job, our activity might be monitored by our teachers or bosses. This can be okay if it's for safety reasons, but it can also be invasive especially in the case of workplaces that are starting to incoporate spyware to monitor "productivity" of workers in crude and unreliable ways.

    There are also cases where even your own personal devices can be snooped on by your employer if you use the device to access company apps such as Slack, Teams, Outlook and more.

    After more research I will be publishing an in-depth howto on how to avoid surprises when using your devices for work access.


  6. Government surveillance: Sometimes the government might monitor what we do online to keep us safe, but it's important to remember that it can also be invasive. While I am more security conscious than most people online, I probably can advise on all the ways to stay safe from state actors, but for the typical person (not the next Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning), I can provide tips and tricks to avoid leaking more than necessary. Wait for my explainer on this topic later in the month!

In general, to protect our privacy, we need to make sure we don't give away too much information, use strong passwords, be careful on public Wi-Fi, and use privacy tools like VPNs, browser extensions to avoid third-party snooping, and virus scanners to detect malware. Having a little skepticism can go a long way (too much and it can stifle your enjoyment of life).

For each of the above concerns, I will be writing a more detailed article to describe how to protect your actions and trail online.