Problems with online anonymity

The internet probably knows what your favourite shoes look like. How you may ask? Your data is being monitored through your PC without you hearing as much as a peep about it. Private firms can spy on users from the comfort of their own computers.

The FTC has recently handed in a report advising private firms to be more open about their data collection practices. New laws regarding user privacy are also currently being worked on.

Users who want to preserve any semblance of privacy left are looking into do-not-track tools. Some suggest adding a do-not-track option directly into browsers, while others are in favor of different software that can curb data collection altogether.

With regular website cookies come other tracking cookies that help the sites we’re visiting identify our user pattern and collect our data. Current data collection practices aren’t transparent, so we have no idea what these sites are up to once they have what they need.

Failure to comply

The universal do-not-track button goes as far as requesting a website that a user’s information not be tracked as they browse a site. However there’s no guarantee that the site will comply with the request.

This option does close to nothing in terms of blocking the websites access, largely because it can’t. Google’s recent fine for lifting data from open Wi-Fi connections without user permission and Facebook’s accessing people’s texts on app user’s cell phones is proof that firms don’t always adhere to the norms of privacy – and those are two really big firms.

At best a do-no-track tool will lull you into a false sense of security where in reality you have more than one front to protect yourself on. Large private firms aren’t the only ones stealing data; there are numerous other threats which one needs to take into account.

Monsters beneath your bed

Fighting against tracking cookies alone is as much the same as looking for the monster in the closet without realizing what’s hiding under your bed.

Options such as AVG’s Do-Not-Track or DNT+ will only go as far as the do-not-track button is meant to. However, PC monitoring tools and other forms of spyware could already exist on your system – granted the data would be going to a person and not a company.

Most computer monitoring software is wired to record your browsing history. Whether or not you’re deleting your cookies becomes irrelevant here. The same is the case with spyware or malware that you mistakenly download by clicking on obscure links or opening spam emails.

No free lunches

Free Wi-Fi is a real treat till you realize that there’s a chance it’s been decked up with computer monitoring software which can record every move you make on your browser. Software such are Firesheep and Wireshark can easily make their way into your system if you’re on a network that has them preinstalled. The Wi-Fi owner has no need to break into your system manually or be anywhere near you to figure out what you’re using the Wi-Fi for.

The WiFi LogoThat’s if you’re using someone else’s Wi-Fi. However even if your own Wi-Fi is open you’re in danger of being attacked. During 2010 reports that Google was lifting private data through open Wi-Fi’s first surfaced, and regardless of how apologetic Google was, it never stopped the practice.

Even with new laws in place for the preservation of user data and more transparency as to what cookies are infiltrating user systems, there’s still a large potential for data collection against a user’s will.

The best idea would be to take a holistic approach to your browsing experience and stay safe from all sides – after all don’t-track-tools are only one a small aspect of online safety, not the key.

4 thoughts on “Problems with online anonymity

  1. I think there is no solution available to a internet surfer to browse things with anonymity. However you can use good anti-virus softwares which provide complete protection with all kind of spyware and malware. But still there are many applications running to catch and read your activity on every website.

    I hope in coming time, we would have a solid solution to our privacy issue.

  2. For some reason I have never believed in online anonymity. The fact that a person is hiding their real identity leads me to believe that they are not someone worthy of trust.
    But after learning about the abilities of hackers all over the internet, I try to become anonymous myself. Not much in terms of my own identity but more of my system’s identity. I’m pretty sure I’ve made the right decision.

  3. I have somewhat come to terms with the fact that anonymity on the internet is wishful thinking these days and even more so in the future. Like you pointed out, there is no guarantee that these companies are going to comply with their own promises. I just try to avoid divulging any sensitive info on the internet as far as possible.


  4. You do have the option of staying anonymous in the Internet but there are drawbacks to this. For example you don’t get the benefit of personalized search results, personalized advertisement suggestions etc. It’s almost always a trade off and if you are careful about it I think you can make the best out of it.

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