How do they spy on us on the Internet? 5 tips to protect our data on the web

How do they spy on us on the Internet? 5 tips to protect our data on the web

There are more than 7 billion people in the world, of whom almost 4 are using the Internet. This is the metric with which the website Webmarketingmanager.net (available in 12 languages) distinguishes the world population: the first is defined as total population, the second digital population. Do you use an electronic device daily? Do you shop online, chat, and surf on social media? Good! You are part of the digital population, and you are also subject to so-called profiling. But what is profiling? Article 4 of the GDPR, the new European Regulation which went into action on May 25th , defines profiling as "any form of automated processing of personal data consisting of the use of such data to evaluate certain aspects related to a physical person, in particular to analyze or predict aspects of professional performance, economic status, health, personal preferences, interests, reliability, behavior, location or movement of that physical person". Such a personal data are collected in a homogeneous group based on tastes, interests and behaviors. Every time, therefore, that a user clicks "Like" on Facebook, searches for any product on Google or Amazon or downloads an app, an algorithm reads this action, archives it and re-proposes it in the form of an advertising message in subsequent navigations.

The question we must ask ourselves, then, is: " Are we willing to give away all this information which, in theory, should be personal and protected? "

The case of Cambridge Analytica

In previous months, in our article " What is happening to Facebook ?" we had discussed the Cambridge Analytica case, a company that has sold personal data of profiles of over 87 million users of the social network to third parties for commercial and political purposes. On the other hand, a study carried out by the University Carlos III of Madrid had highlighted how Facebook gets at hand personal and sensitive data (political opinions, religion, union membership, health data, life and sexual orientation) of about 40% of the total European citizens, almost 205 million people.

In the light of the new European regulation, we then wonder if our data in the future will ever truly be safe and if our privacy will finally be respected. Furthermore, it is not trivial to ask what will happen to the personal information previously shared. Only time, unfortunately, will tell and give us the answers we seek. But one thing is sure: the new European regulation on privacy will bring to every field – including the IT – substantial changes.

5 useful tips for our privacy

Is it really possible to protect your data on the Internet, or should we resign ourselves to being spied on or manipulated? Waiting for the effects of the new European Regulations, each of us, with a little care and common sense, can start taking precautions to protect our privacy on the Internet.

Here are 5 useful tips that we advise you to follow:

1. Utilize anti-profiling browsers

On the web you can find some browsers, like Qwant, that guarantee anti-profiling and that do not use cookies (user tracking systems) or that, like Duckduckgo, use cryptographic services that guarantee quasi-anonymity by detecting only the essential data necessary for navigation, for example, geographical origin on a continental basis.

2. The “friend” list

Did you ever accept friend requests from or add people you don’t know, or that you do not know well, maybe because they sent you a friend request or simply because you wanted to increase the list of your "friends" on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.?

Let us be aware that what we share is accessible to people we really trust. It is advisable, therefore, to purge your contacts list, making a clear distinction between "friends" and "acquaintances" in order to decide to share our daily routines, a photo, a special memory or a thought to "all and only our true friends."

3. Terms, Conditions e Privacy Settings

Various platforms have recently been updating their policies of usage characterized by an increasingly rich discipline in terms of privacy and security. Surely you will be flooded with such insistence. It is useful, however, to dedicate a minute of reading to these texts that you can find in the settings or at the footer of the App or on the web page of the site of your interest, under the heading "Terms and Conditions. "

Some social networks, like Facebook, have also implemented in their platforms the possibility for the user to decide which information to share and what the social network can use. You will find all this by going to the settings of your social network and clicking on the "privacy setting," follow the preset guideline, read well the premises what you agree to and disagree to share and be sure to give your consent to information that can effectively be shared with third parties.

4. Personal Data

It is customary to put personal data on your profile (the city in which we live, our home address, the year of birth, or cell number). But is all this useful information really needed to boost the potentials of that particular platform? Thinking that sometimes the smallest amount of information about a person can be enough to steal their identity, it's better not to facilitate this for cyber criminals who could use that information for illicit purposes and even to one’s own detriment. It would be advisable to modify your profile by deleting data or not entering it when new information is asked.

5. Pay attention to the apps for smartphones

Those who download an application for their Android from Google Play, will surely have noticed that in order to be installed, it requires consent to access of data on the device. But is it really essential that an App has access to all our information in order to function properly?

Fortunately no! Some manufacturers of Mobile Apps are "clever" when it comes to additions, mandatory permissions, and access to data that is not really essential for its operation. Therefore, we must pay close attention to what we install and the permissions we give, to keep our privacy, security and data from unwanted circulation. How can we intervene if we need that particular application, but it requires so many accesses to be able to install it?

There are no softwares or automatic apps to help in this concrete case, but we can still take some precautions:

a) Before installing an application, check that it does not require access to those areas of our smartphone from which it is possible to easily extract our sensitive data, unless they are strictly needed for its functionality. What are the so-called dangerous authorizations?: Calendar, Camera, Contacts, Body Sensors, Microphone, SMS, Memory, Location and Phone.

b) Only install applications from the PlayStore, verify from the application menu that Google Play Protect is active, and avoid installing applications from "unknown sources".

c) Always manage the settings of our applications! By accessing the settings of our device in the App/Applications/Permissions area, you will be faced with a list of all the applications installed on your device. Clicking on one of them, in addition to the usual information, you will find the "Permissions" button from which you can both verify the information to which that particular App has access, or unselect access to those areas not essential for proper operation.

Let’s remember the most effective tool to defend your data – our common sense – always remains!

Good and safe surfing, everyone!