A Guide To Internet Privacy

Internet privacy refers to the personal privacy that a person is entitled to when displaying, storing, and providing information regarding himself or herself on the Internet. It is important for Internet users to have the right to keep certain information private, because it gives them control over the distribution of their personal information and protects them from online criminal activities. The federal government and states have imposed certain regulations to ensure that Internet service providers and websites will protect the privacy of Internet users, and failure to provide such protection is considered a violation of the law.

Levels of Privacy

The level of privacy that Internet users have depends on their personal preferences. Those who are not overly concerned about keeping their personal information private do not have to achieve total anonymity. They can protect their privacy by disclosing certain kinds of personal information only. Some Internet users prefer to reveal their IP addresses through their hosting companies and other information because they do not want to go through the hassle of hiding such information. There are also people who wish to have greater privacy, and they may try to become totally anonymous online. They take certain measures to make sure their personal information is not revealed through their online activities.

Privacy Regulations in the United States

Certain states in the US have regulations to ensure Internet privacy. In these states, Internet service providers are prohibited from revealing personal information about their customers, unless the customers permit them to do so. Also, website owners are required to post a privacy policy conspicuously in their websites to let their visitors know the kinds of personal information that they will be collecting and sharing, and which parties they will be sharing with. Upon reading the policy, customers can decide whether they wish to submit their personal information to the websites or not.

Risks to Internet Privacy

Almost every Internet user is exposed to some forms of privacy threats. Online companies do not only track which websites Internet users visit; they also send advertisements based on their browsing histories. There are many online activities that require people to share personal information, and the information may be distributed to other parties. In order to protect their privacy, Internet users have to know what kinds of activities come with privacy risks.

HTTP cookies, flash cookies, and evercookies are used for storing information on personal computers. They can pose privacy risks because they can be used to track the browsing histories of Internet users. Other than showing people’s physical appearances, photographs on the Internet can also reveal personal information. This is made possible by face recognition technology.

Another activity that comes with privacy risks is using search engines. Search engines can reveal personal information such as search items used, dates and times of searches, and others. Social networking sites require their members to display personal information in their profiles, but most members are willing to do so in the hope that they will make more friends. Those who wish to keep their personal information more private can use privacy settings to select the kind of information they wish to display and who the information will be accessible to. Internet service providers also have access to their customers’ personal information, since all the information that is transmitted will pass through them. Nonetheless, there are laws that prevent them from observing the activities of their customers.

Legal Threats

Government agencies may also retrieve personal information and breach privacy regulations sometimes. Nevertheless, they are legally allowed to do so if the information they obtain is necessary for law enforcement purposes. They use a wide range of sophisticated software to collect information about Internet users who are suspected of crimes. One program that became a subject of much debate was an FBI Trojan Horse program called Magic Lantern.

Laws for Internet Privacy Protection

Since privacy threats started becoming a problem, the US government had established a number of laws to guard the privacy of Internet users. The USA Patriot Act was enacted to facilitate the investigation of online activities, improve law enforcement investigation tools, and discourage terrorist acts. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act forbids people from revealing electronic information under certain circumstances. Other laws that have been imposed include the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and the Employees and Employers Internet Regulations.

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