An Introduction to Online Privacy

By Alan Zu

December 14, 2020

The Internet is a really fun and cool thing.  But, as I’m sure you know, the Internet can also be a terrifying place. There are many entities on the Internet who want, and can,  get a hold of all the juicy details of who you are. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you follow all the right steps, you can finally get a sense of peace and privacy that is so apparently lacking on the Internet nowadays.  But let’s say you need a bit more convincing. What’s so bad about not taking any precautions while on the Internet? It turns out, there is a lot to be worried about. As I said earlier, many people are watching what you’re doing online, but to illustrate how scarily revealing your online activity can be, let me take you back a few years. In 2012, a man complained to Target customer service that the corporation was advertising baby products to his teenage daughter, as he was wary about Target potentially encouraging his daughter to become pregnant. It was only a few weeks later that he found out that his daughter was indeed pregnant. If Target could realize that a girl was pregnant before her father did via some changes in her purchases nearly a decade ago, one can only imagine what else your search history can say about you.  But that’s just one potentially questionable but harmless scenario. Target doesn’t compare to the cybercriminals out there who will, and can, maliciously take advantage of you. Stealing personal information for financial gain is nothing new at all, and hopefully you’re aware of that. But, at least in my opinion, the scarier possibility is that people are watching you, quite literally, through your cameras. Camera hacking, also known as Camfecting, is not as an uncommon occurrence as you would think. Although it is difficult to get a solid grasp of how many photos are taken via camfecting due to many images being taken while the user is unaware, it’s safe to say it could happen to you. Not only is it unnerving that someone could be watching you sleep, but also these could be used for blackmail so cybercriminals can extort you of your money.  Now that you know the extent of how unnerving being watched can be, it’s time to learn what you can do to secure your privacy. In this article, we’ll show you how to protect yourself in two important ways against both cybercriminals and big corporations.

Common Sense

Be an active browser and engage with and think about the things that you do online. Being aware that criminals are trying to get a hold of your personal data is incredibly easy, but a vital step in securing your online privacy. This could apply to almost anything you do on the Internet, but some extremely easy first steps are to not overshare on social media and to keep your passwords complex and unique. Sharing your personal life on social media may seem harmless at first glance, but take a minute to think about how much someone could figure out based only on your social media. Photos at restaurants could indicate that you live nearby at the restaurant, and many things that you could post can be used to crack your security questions (your first pet, your school mascot,  your mother’s maiden name, etc.)

 Especially be aware of the things sent to you through your email, even if the email seems legitimate. Attackers may know who you normally receive emails from, and may disguise themselves as familiar or official-sounding emails to send you an unsuspecting phishing attempt. For example, if you work at Dori’s Bakery and Baby Clothes, and Dori herself has the email address, an attacker might send an email from If you aren’t paying attention and click the email, you may have just unknowingly downloaded any number of malware.  Similarly, cybercriminals may pose as your most trusted brands to get you to share personal information. If you’re going to give out things like credit card information or similarly sensitive information, make sure you’re on the right website and double check the email address you clicked on.


Things That Aren’t Google

Have you ever wondered how Google makes money? Well, they sell your data to advertisers, who then bid for your data so they can advertise to you. And they know a lot about you. Bruce Scheiner, a cybersecurity expert at Harvard, said in an interview that Google knows quite a lot about all of us. No one ever lies to a search engine. I used to say that Google knows more about me than my wife does, but that doesn’t go far enough. Google knows me even better, because Google has perfect memory in a way that people don’t.”

Think about all the things that you do online. Almost everything that you do probably has something to do with Google. Whether it be your email, your cloud storage, or figuring out where to eat tonight, chances are, you’ve told Google about it. Google can even figure out exactly where you are going and where you are at any given time, even if you have location tracking history turned off.

This is terrible news if you value your digital privacy at all, but the good news is that there are search engines out there that are designed for people who value their privacy more than a bit of convenience. You might think privacy focused search engines might have some downsides compared to Google, such as a worse interface or being locked behind a paywall. Luckily there are many free, high quality, and easy to use search engines that don’t track you. Take ,for example, DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo has an interface much like Google’s, so you won’t be missing out on much. An interesting part of DuckDuckGo is that it is able to show things such as local results, which definitely raises suspicion, but rest assured although DuckDuckGo uses this data, it doesn’t save it. 


Fight For Real Change

The huge convenience that we have available to us in the modern age comes with the tradeoff of privacy invasion. It’s almost impossible to cover all of your tracks. And even if you manage to do so, chances are that there’s already a significant portfolio of your personal data in multiple corporate storages, of which you have basically no control over. Of course, it’s always better to start late than to never start at all, so you can finally have some sense of peace instead of none.

However, if it does bother you that there is a digital profile of you stored away on some corporation’s cloud, there is a way for someone to remove that data. The federal government is the only power that could enforce our online privacy. But they do need convincing. It seems difficult, considering that you would have to politically out maneuver large and influential corporations such as Google, Facebook, etc. but it is certainly possible, as seen with net neutrality.