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With all the talk surrounding Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, privacy has been a top of mind conversation for many people. There are a lot of misconceptions about what kind of privacy you can expect when using the internet these days. It’s time to sort out what is true, what is false, and what you should expect to be able to keep private, here’s a hint though, it’s not much.

Browsing

When you are browsing the internet under normal circumstances, there are files that are downloaded to your computer that keep images and settings for the various websites when you visit. The reason these are downloaded is to make the site load more quickly the next time you visit. There is a way to prevent these files from being downloaded. When you use Incognito Mode in Chrome, or Private Browsing on Firefox, it will prevent the browsers from tracking your browsing history and downloading images and cookies from the websites you visit.

A common misconception about private or incognito browsing is that it makes you invisible on the internet. This is absolutely not true. Your Internet service provider, employer, or the sites themselves can still track what pages you visit. Private Browsing also doesn’t protect you from keyloggers or spyware that may be installed on your computer. While using private browsing you are also vulnerable to any attacks on open wifi networks.

Social Media

Whatever you post on social media should never be assumed to be private. Even if your privacy settings are really locked down, and you have very few friends on the social network, things you post can always come back to bite you. Someone can take a screenshot of your picture or status update you posted and share it with people you didn’t expect.

A quote that fits social media perfectly is “If you aren’t paying for the product, you ARE the product”. Social media platforms are owned and run by a company. You do not own that company. You agree when you sign up for most social platforms that they can use your data for their own purposes. A company can’t use any information about you, that you don’t give them. So don’t be surprised when data you add to a platform is used to show you ads, to help advertise that company, or for any other reasons.

Ambient Privacy

Now that you understand what you are likely unable to keep private, what can you expect to keep private? Many people have concerns about smart home assistants like Amazon’s Echo devices and the Google Home. These speakers are always on, and always listening. However, just because it is always listening does not mean it is always recording. Imagine the amount of data that would need to be stored if all of those devices were keeping the recordings of every conversation in every household. Mostly these devices are listening for keywords that will trigger events on the device, and won’t store that data beyond replying to your query.

If you have ever seen a YouTube video, you know that when you are out in public, you should also never assume your conversation or actions will remain private. Everyone has a recording device attached to their hands at all times. How they choose to use those devices is up to them, and you can’t control their actions. When out in public, or even in private if you have jerks for friends, always be aware that you could be recorded.

Privacy in 2018 is extremely hard to come by, and it is shocking how many people still assume they have control over what they consider to be private. Always remember, anything that happens online can be discovered at any time, so be careful on how you conduct yourself.