from Jules - Thursday, August 23, 2001
accessed 2057 times
Protect yourself online. Find out what people can find about you and how to stop them.
I recently got involved in an interesting debate with some other people online regarding the issue of privacy on the Internet. I have worked with online communities for children for the past few years, and the issue of privacy and sensitive information online is one that is of personal and professional concern to me. This recent discussion has made me take a look at this website and think about some specific issues here.
If you are a techie, then you know this stuff already, but I wanted to write some things up about this for those who may not know. This website deals with some very sensitive and controversial issues, and I want to be sure that all visitors here know their rights and how to protect themselves online.
Your IP address:
This is the unique number of your personal computer on the Internet network. Every single website on the net can record this information when someone logs on to their server. To see what this can tell you about someone try this out:
Go to this website http://visualroute.visualware.co.uk/ You will see a number at the top of the page looking something like this: 143.32.782.18
That is your IP address. If you click on that number, lines will be traced on the map showing where your computer is. Spooky, eh?
If you are using a dialup service like AOL, or LineOne for example, they use what is known as a proxy server to connect you to the net. This means that when you go online, a random number is assigned to your computer and you cannot be traced further than your Internet service. Smaller Internet service providers are often local and can be traced to much closer to home for you.
If you have high speed access like DSL or a cable modem or your computer at work (if your work does not use a proxy server), you are hard wired to a computer network, with a unique name on that network. Many of these networks use a naming convention like CS8376-yourstate-yourcity.102.94.718.13 which obviously may tell the website more than you wanted to know.
Before you decide to never go online again, the reality is that websites receive so much information in a single day that they cannot tell who is who. They retain this information in case of hackers or for general statistical purposes.
If this is a concern for you, there are services that will help you surf anonymously. http://www.safeweb.com is one for example. If you go to this website and access the webpages you want to go to from their forms, then no one on these sites will able to track you. Some websites block this service, and unless they are posting state secrets, they are probably more concerned with the location of their visitors then they should be.
These are small electronic text files that are downloaded to your computer when you surf some websites. The file contains a unique number that lets the website know when you come back to it again. To see when these files are downloaded to you, adjust the security settings in your browser, (click on help in the top of your browser if you don’t know how to do this). You can block cookies from being downloaded to you, but many websites will not work if you do this.
Cookies are often used for advertisers across many websites and they can build huge databases of which people go where, and target advertising that is specifically things that you have indicated you are interested in by the websites you have accessed.
To see what cookies are currently on your machine right now, do a search in your files for “cookie”. (A lot of wives often do this to ensure their husbands are not surfing for porn! :-)
Personal information you or others post online:
This is the biggest concern to me on this website. Many children who have participated online in communities I have helped to build have horror stories of creeps who tracked them down from things they unwittingly said online.
NEVER give out any personal information online. Unless the page is encrypted, (you see a lock in the bottom of your browser,) this information can be intercepted by someone. Search engines are powerful things, and even someone with a bit of knowledge can type in keywords they have heard from you and chances are, something, somewhere is posted about you online. You can type someone’s first and last name and city into http://www.whitepages.com and get their address and phone number. Information you type into a chat room can be saved, and things like Paltalk (where you can actually talk one on one with strangers) are even more risky, as you may reveal even more info about yourself.
Personal information is defined as things such as:
Though perhaps any one of these would in itself be okay, (there are pictures of me on the net--no I am not telling where) a combination of this info is not something you want to be making accessible to strangers.
- Your real surname
- The city you live in
- Where you work
- Specific medical conditions
- The names of your parents
- The name of your school
- Date of birth
- A photograph of you
- Financial details (credit card—never send this through email, bank account number—yes very stupid people have actually posted this online, etc.)
- Non-anonymous email address (an application called finger can find the location of a email address, also many people register for an “anonymous” email with their real first and last names—not a good idea)
- Racial or ethnic origin
- Phone number (duh)
- Address (double duh)
- Social Security/Social Insurance number (never give this out online to anyone, people can steal your entire identity from this number and tie you up for years with credit and other problems--I know people this has actually happened to)
If other people post any of this information about you without your consent, you are entitled to due process. Lodge a complaint with the website for a start, then with the company that hosts the website. If this still does not work, you can take legal action against the “webmaster”.
This website in particular is by young people who have grown up in a very controversial “sex cult” and is open to anyone who is out there with a computer and modem. Please be careful.
PS: Any website worth their salt will post a complete privacy statement. I have one at the bottom of every page of this site. Check it out if you want to know what information this site collects and what happens to that info.