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Internet invades our privacy

Katy Murray
Managing Editor

   New technologies have given rise to the concept of Big Brother watching and recording the details of our lives from simple strokes on the keyboard of a computer.

   Governments, banks, credit card companies and other commercial enterprises collect a great deal of information about their customers and store that information in computer databases. Much of this information may be personal, such as a person’s likes, dislikes, finances and family history.

   “You have to be careful today when giving out your information because your whole life can end up at the other end of a mouse click,” said Web designer Deana Moffatt of Academic Computing/Distance Education.

   The damage may start small with “junk” e-mails from various organizations, including credit card companies and telephone calls from telemarketers.  It can eventually grow into companies selling your information, hackers stealing it for malicious purposes or the government tracking your movements on the World Wide Web.

   For example credit companies and other organizations collect data on millions of citizens daily.  Much of the data can be created while interacting with government and private organizations. The most common information found on a person by these organizations follows:

  • credit history
  • income
  • personal data (Social Security Number, age, family history, ethnicity, religion)
  • reading material (magazines, books)
  • listening preferences
  • motor vehicle information
  • federal, state and private loans
  • telephone calls
  • medical information
  • insurance information
  • school records
  • employment history
  • legal hearings and judgments
  • marital history

   The question then arises, “How can they take someone’s private information?” The answer however may be worse than the question because not only can it be taken but it can also be sold, allowing the companies to profit at a person’s expense. However according to the U.S. Supreme Court, the copyright law does not protect data collected on the public.

   Since an individual can not reclaim data that he voluntarily gave to someone else, like age or income for example, he may consider methods of protection to minimize the damage. The best way simply remains to not give it away in the first place, however measures can still be taken for those who have already.

   First in regard to e-mail, a person should delete junk e-mail messages without opening them because sometimes even that can alert more messages. One should also not respond to these messages even if they offer an option to “Remove me from your list.” Furthermore attachments in e-mails should cautiously be opened because they may easily be carrying a computer virus.

   Today a person can protect his email using “spam filters” to screen emails and quarantine junk emails away from normal messages. One can also protect his computer by reducing his risk from hackers, viruses and worms by using a firewall, anti-virus software and currently updating his software.

   “I lowered my problems with pop-ups, viruses and with people gaining access to my personal pc when I put up a firewall,” said student worker Justin Ress of Academic Computing.  “I use Zone Alarm, a free download firewall.”

   Many people also lose privacy when using online payment services. In this situation using a third-party payment service may be the best choice.  It allows one to transfer money into an online account and make payments from that account without exposing actual credit card or bank account information.

   To use this method of safety a person must follow certain guidelines to help reduce invasion of privacy. For example one should not respond to email messages from third-party payment services when asked to confirm account details, such as passwords or other personality identifiable information. One should also make sure the seller has been a verified member of the payment service for at least a few months and also during the holidays, especially, he should be careful when purchasing very expensive items when they can not be purchased in actual stores.

   Spyware also exists as a problem when protecting privacy. According to Microsoft.com, Spyware exists as the general term applied to software that performs certain behaviors such as advertising, collecting personal information or changing the configuration of one’s computer without his consent. To prevent Spyware problems a user should update his software frequently, adjust his browser security settings, use a firewall and install anti-spyware protection.

   Security products to reduce risk include: Ad Aware, Spybot Search and Destroy, SpyKiller, ArmorWall and X-Raypc. Many of these tools afford protection by scanning the computer’s memory, registry, hard, removable and optical drives for known data mining, aggressive advertising and tracking components.

   To learn more about personal privacy and the federal laws that protect privacy and access to information, study the Privacy Act of 1974, Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978, the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986.

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The Voice, 2005
Revised 050422 — http://www.uamont.edu/Organizations/TheVoice/2_20/privacy.htm