The New Year’s Biggest Privacy Risks

The New Year’s Biggest Privacy Risks
Easy Tips to Protect Your Privacy in 2011

Many Americans are wrapping up a holiday season filled with online shopping, Facebook status updates, and gifts of smartphones and eBook readers. Now that the New Year is upon us, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse is urging Americans to pay attention to the privacy risks that accompany these trending technologies.

Behavioral Targeting
Behavioral Targeting is expected to continue double-digit growth through 2014 as Americans increasingly go online. Already 77% of Americans use the Internet. Behavioral targeting uses data collected from your computer to deliver “targeted” advertisements. The concern is that marketers can track your online behavior, such as the links you click on and how long you spend on a page, without your knowledge. Since marketers often sell and trade data, they can easily build a detailed profile on you over time.

Consumer Tips:

  • Always use the latest version of your browser. The Federal Trade Commission is recommending that browser developers offer a “do not track” option to consumers and most developers are responding. Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Explorer announced that their next browser versions will include an opt-in “do not track” feature. 
  • Look for privacy plugins. Check to see if your browser offers privacy protection plugins (also called add-ons or extensions) like Disconnect, NoScript, AdBlock Plus, TACO and Ghostery.

Facebook connects more than 500 million people—more people than in America and Brazil combined. On Facebook, people store massive amounts of personal information, including birth dates, photos, phone numbers, and more. Not only is this information a gold mine for marketers and unscrupulous individuals, but it may also be used against you by current and future employers. 

Consumer Tips:

  • Take control of your privacy settings. Choose “Friends Only” for all of your settings, unless you are sure it is information you wouldn’t mind being public. A good rule is to ask, "Would I want my boss or grandparent to see this?”
  • Think before you join that App. Finding out “What Breed of Dog Are You?” might sound fun, but every time you allow a third-party application to access your account, you run the risk of exposing your personal information and your friends’. Read each application’s privacy policy carefully and only run applications you trust.

Smartphones are the fasted growing segment of the mobile phone market, with half of Americans expected to own one by the end of 2011. Built-in GPS capability allows you to share your location through photos and apps. It might seem harmless, but criminals can use location data to track your movements or find out where you live. Another problem is when smartphone apps sell data about you—such as your phone number, current location and name—to third-party marketers without your knowledge or consent.

Consumer Tips:

  • Turn off camera geotagging. Make sure the “location services” setting for your smartphone camera is turned off. Otherwise your exact location is embedded in every photo you take.
  • Restrict your friend list on geosocial apps . Check the settings of your geosocial apps like Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt; only share updates with approved friends and don’t automatically push updates to your more public accounts like Facebook or Twitter.
  • Read the privacy policy.  Any reputable smartphone app should have a privacy policy available for you to read. The policy should explain what data is being collected about you and how it will be stored and used. Make sure you agree with it before you install the app.

eBook Reader
eBook Reader ownership has tripled in less than two years and eBook sales already account for 10% of U.S. consumer book sales. Like your smartphone, eBook readers collect and track data. For example, reading devices may track what books you search for, the exact pages being read, and any annotations you make. How is that information being stored and shared?

Consumer Tips:

  • Read the privacy policy. Take the time to understand how the eBook reader is storing and sharing your personal information.
  • Make your voice heard. Read ACLU’s report (PDF) on the privacy risks associated with eBooks. Let your federal and state legislative representatives know that laws are needed to extend the privacy protection that you currently have when reading traditional books to eBooks.

For more information about these and other trending privacy issues, visit