The loss of privacy in the golden age of the Internet has quickly gone from troubling possibility to uncomfortable reality. Ours is a world immersed in information, and oversharing has become the rule, rather than the exception.
Every single minute, 639,800 gigabytes of information is transmitted around the ‘Net: 47,000 apps are downloaded, Google handles more than two million searches, and 100,000 bon mots, adverts, and assorted logorrhea appear on Twitter in the form of tweets. The information superhighway’s expanding exponentially, and new batches of data are ready to go tearing down the lanes as soon as they’re laid.
Of course, not all this sharing is funny cat videos or hipster-fied pics of your niece’s lunch. In that same “Internet minute,” twenty people find they’ve become the victims of identity theft. Countless more, however, are victims of a far more insidious sort of theft: data mining. Depending on the browser and services you use, your every click, website visit, and online purchase can be collected, analyzed and used to create a profile that’s readily sold off to advertisers and government agencies. A quick visit to a gardening website could mean ads for heirloom tomato seeds are in your Facebook future; buying a bingo bag for your sweet old aunt Mildred could lead to unlooked-for AARP adverts in your mailbox.
And that’s just the tip of the information iceberg. The same profile that notes your love of ‘80s rock and romantic movies often also contains less frivolous information such as your home address, phone number, and even your social security number.
Fortunately, you can take steps to protect your privacy, even in an age of “free” apps and crazily-specific targeted ads. Encrypting your files and emails, switching to a more secure browser, and—if you have the emotional wherewithal—even pulling the social media plug altogether are just some of the ways you can keep your personal information from becoming a public matter.
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