Ah, the good ole friendly Internet.
Hanging with your pals on Facebook. Tweeting funny quips with co-workers. Shopping for books on Amazon. Reading blogs.
And, of course, stumbling upon child pornography, criminals stealing your credit card information, and viruses infecting your laptop, malware infiltrating your personal information and spam bursting your email inbox.
Ah, the Internet an art museum and a crack house all rolled into one.
But even the clean, well-lighted places on the Internet – those places and platforms that we believe are safe – aren’t what they appear to be. There are lots of illusions on the Internet (pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!).
Here are three rather chilling facts that you should keep in mind every time you get online.
1. Not only are you being watched, but you’re being followed
The culprits? Your Internet service provider for one. ISPs can track your Internet visits, read your email and can even block you from going to sites they determine you shouldn’t visit, according to recent investigation by the Associated Press.
Remember when you connect your computer to the internet you do so through an IP address. Each IP address is unique in much the same way as a telephone number or a social security number. That number remains static for the devices you connect to through your home or work ISP service.
Not only can your ISP follow you this way, but so can websites and advertisers. They know where you’ve been when you arrive at their website and also know where you’re going when you leave. Websites also track what you look at, what you click, how long you stay on the page and whether or not you’re hungry when you read their pages (all right maybe not the last one – yet!).
2. Everything you do has been saved and archived.
On Facebook. On Twitter. Every place online where you create an account. All that data is saved, archived and later used against you (mostly to serve more targeted advertising – but who knows what they’ll do with that data in the future). Take one of the biggest offenders: Google. Google tracks your every search and, in fact, has a record of every search you’ve ever made (if you were signed in to the service).
So those midnight runs to Justin Bieber’s website and those searches for Lindsey Lohan in a bikini are all saved forever.
What exactly does Google know? Let Freda Ghitis of CNN explain:
“Google has every e-mail you ever sent or received on Gmail. It has every search you ever made, the contents of every chat you ever had over Google Talk. It holds a record of every telephone conversation you had using Google Voice, it knows every Google Alert you’ve set up. It has your Google Calendar with all content going back as far as you’ve used it, including everything you’ve done every day since then. It knows your contact list with all the information you may have included about yourself and the people you know. It has your Picasa pictures, your news page configuration, indicating what topics you’re most interested in. And so on.”
Yeah, I know. It’s unbelievable.
Not only are you leaving detailed tracks online, don’t forget that everything thing you have done on your computer remains on your hard drive – even if you delete it. So if your laptop or computer is stolen… or infiltrated (see below)…
3. You have already been infiltrated.
Websites and advertisers install software on your computer without you knowing it. Sometimes this is just as simple as a “cookie” – a kernel that reports your profile and Internet surfing habits back to the companies and advertisers. It’s also a way for websites to recognize you when you return so they can load in your preferences.
They do this is build up knowledge about the way you use websites, buy items, and interact with advertising – so they can personalize and customize it just for you.
These “cookies” relay back a lot of information about you – where you live, your age and sex, your occupation and, of course, your habits online.
Unfortunately, cookies aren’t the worse things. Some companies infiltrate your computer with spyware and adware. This is when third-parties install a more robust kind of software on your computer that can track your surfing habits in real-time. These types of software can also capture and send personal information stored on your computer – like passwords, logins and financial transactions.
Sometimes this malicious software can send emails from your accounts or send out documents, reports and images.
In fact, it is extremely likely that you already have adware (or spyware) embedded on your computer.
Have any scary Internet stories to share? What scares you most about the Internet?
Wikipedia: Spyware entry