Big Brother is watching: The top five threats to your online privacy

Left Foot Forward presents the top five emerging threats to your privacy online.

Last weekend it was reported that a multinational security firm has developed software capable of tracking people’s movements and predicting future behaviour by taking data from social networking sites.

Understandably this has raised ethical questions about internet privacy. How much data should firms be allowed to hold about people?

Then again, wouldn’t the online experience be improved if things were personalised a bit more with adverts tailored to our interests rather than endless spam hawking Viagra and Russian brides.

While regulation catches up with those who are finding new and innovative ways to snoop on us, Left Foot Forward has taken a look at five threats to online privacy.

1. Smartphones

Smartphones are brilliant. Their brilliance, however,  is also what makes them a privacy risk.

Both governments and hackers have the ability to track individuals via their smartphones, and the US Supreme Court could soon allow police to monitor the movements of US mobile phone users without a warrant.

According to a report which came out last year, every time you use a smartphone app your personal information is fired off to dozens of Internet companies all over the world.

Technology is advancing at such speed that it’s entirely possible that within 10 years each of us will have the ability to know where everyone else is at all times via their smartphone.

2. Your friends

As we spend more time online we unwittingly put our most sensitive information at the mercy of hackers.

That isn’t to say your friends will be the ones who hack your email account. But we’ve all had emails from what we thought was a friend telling us to ‘check out this awesome video’ only to find it wasn’t a friend at all, but rather…well, who knows who it was.

In all seriousness, it was probably a hacker posing as your friend in an attempt to swipe your details.

It’s important, therefore, to take your friends’ ‘recommendations’ with a pinch of salt.

3. Behavioural advertising

Today we leave a trail of targeted advertising in our wake. Ever Googled something only to find that what it was you were searching for has followed you around for the next fortnight every time you log on to the net?

When you visit Facebook or do a search on Google, your behavioral profile, which consists of your online habits, preferences and buying patterns, grows.

This has worried many people.

In the United States there is strong support for legislation to limit the information companies can hold about citizens, with 92% of people recently surveyed saying that there should be a law requiring websites and advertising companies to delete all stored information about them.

4. Facial recognition software

It’s possible that soon you will be able to find out who someone is simply by pointing a smartphone at them. A bit more digging and you may even be able to get hold of their address, telephone number and , if you’re lucky, their relationship status.

Then, who knows: their national insurance number, their banks details even.

Facial recognition is taking off, and as well as doing the obvious thing of identifying people via their photo, it also enables the linking together of sites and webpages in a way that it would be difficult to do using text searches – making the theft of personal date infinitely easier.

5. Malvertising gangs

Anyone can place an ad on the web – anyone who can use the internet, that is. The problem is that not everyone who has the ability to place an ad has something to sell.

Scammers posing as legitimate advertisers can infiltrate the complex system of nearly 100 ad networks such as Google’s AdSense that distribute ads across the Internet.

Once a fake ad has been introduced into the system it morphs into scareware, informing surfers who visit the affected page that a virus has infected their computer.

Considering internet advertising is playing an increasingly dominant role in the business models of companies both large and small, the growth of malicious advertising damages trust in the marketplace – something which, ultimately, damages business and therefore you, the consumer.

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