Forever Public: Your Data on the Net
All data placed on the Net is extremely hard to eliminate. Access to private information and behavioral patterns tell more about us than we’d like to reveal.
It’s quite simple: the Internet is data flow. It is loaded with information and tools that process it. Every time you connect to any service online, you initiate bidirectional data flow. However all this data, regardless of its origin, is extremely hard to eliminate.
Doesn’t the last statement look questionable? You must have read dozens of stories about important data loss. Whatever the reason is – human mistake, hardware failure, coincidence or something else – data is really easy to lose. And it is incredibly hard to recover. Why should one be careful when placing any data online?
You’re Exposing, Not Peeking
When people connect to Internet, mostly they believe that they are looking at that turmoil from behind the scenes – as a matter of fact, just peeking. This is a huge misconception. In fact, every user gets exposed to all the world when he or she connects to the Net. How?
Every piece of software you’re using, including such popular tools as browsers, contains and spreads information of your online presence and behavior. Unless you attempt to hide your true location, use secure communication and take a lot of other precautions, every time you visit a site you will definitely leave evidence of your presence.
Furthermore, when you visit the same sites during similar periods of time, you create pattern that can be memorized and used to detect your specific interests and actions. If you think this is some kind of paranoia and that ordinary people have nothing to worry about, remember that the Net is a genuine replica of the real world. It also has its hazards, traps and crooks.
Let me put it simple: would you tell anyone you meet on street about your future plans, give them your address and your phone number, disclose the most intimate details of your private life? You’d say NO to that. However, this is exactly what most people do while they wander all over the Net: throwing around their private data without any precautions.
The Internet Doesn’t Forget
Have you ever visited Wayback Machine? Try it, it’s a wonderful place. It allows you to look at the sites that no longer exist. It also stores snapshots of many web pages, showing exactly as they looked in the past. Pictures and other multimedia may vanish. However, text remains.
Storage capacity of computers and other devices is enormous. Think of a petabyte as an average unit of storage and data exchange speed. To illustrate: one petabyte is 20,000 times as much as an average 500 Gb disk. With more and more storage entering public access, we should admit: the Net can remember anything and everything that ever was placed on it. And in most cases, it really does.
Everyone can store virtually unlimited amounts of data, at amazingly low costs, or even for free. Whereas personal information is extremely hard to remove, it’s also appealing. Most of the time it’s not possible to track who had access to it and who could make a copy.
Spoken words are smarter than birds: they can’t be caught. This is what exactly all human-generated data is: it cannot be caught or removed since the moment it became public. In a way, it becomes immortal.
People are both curious and careless, when posting their photos, explaining how they enjoy their vacations. At the same very moment they inform everyone (criminals included) where people are and where they aren’t. They reveal their behavioral patterns and give a great kickoff for anyone who’s up to no good with this information. No sane person would inform all local burglars when he’s not home. On the Net, it’s done frighteningly often. Too often.
One should remember this simple statement: any piece of information that appears on the Net will never leave it – can and it will be retrieved later on. However, there’s a simple question can protect you from the most common problems. Before you place anything on the Net, think twice: would you place that if you knew everyone has access to it?
If in doubt, do not make your life too public. In this imperfect world, it can hurt you all of a sudden. It’s impossible to remain anonymous on the Net; however, that doesn’t mean you should make all your life public and visible for everyone.
What should you do if you leaked something too important, too private, too personal, or just embarrassing that can be used to harm you?
The only reasonable piece of advice is “live with it”. Next time be more careful when you decide to share something on the Net, that’s all. If crucial credentials are leaked by mistake – well, change your passwords immediately. Make sure such data is useless as soon as possible. All the rest will just stay around.
Common sense is the answer when coping with all these issues. Keep safe and stay away from troubles!