Tag: online privacy

Simple steps to stay private online

Simple steps to stay private online

Visitors to virtually every major website are tracked, but you can limit the snooping.

Visitors to almost every major website are tracked online, a Journal investigation has found. But there are ways to limit the snooping. Web browsing activity is tracked by use of “cookies,” “beacons” and “Flash cookies,” small computer files or software programs installed on a user’s computer by the Web pages that are visited. Some are useful. But a subset (“third party” cookies and beacons) are used by companies to track users from site to site and build a database of their online activities.

Major browsers including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari, have privacy features. To have the most privacy options, upgrade to the latest version of the browser you use.

Check and Delete Cookies: All popular browsers let users view and delete cookies installed on their computer. Methods vary by browser.

For instance on Internet Explorer 8 (the most widely used browser), go to the “Tools” menu, pull down to “Internet Options” and under the “General” tab there are options for deleting some or all cookies. There might be hundreds, so deleting all might be easiest. But the next time you visit a favorite site, you may need to retype passwords or other login data previously stored automatically by one of those cookies.

Adjust Browser Settings: Once you’ve deleted cookies, you can limit the installation of new ones. Major browsers let you accept some cookies and block others. To maintain logins and settings for sites you visit regularly, but limit tracking, block “third-party” cookies. Safari automatically does this; other browsers must be set manually.

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The truth behind all those Twitter tweets

The truth behind all those Twitter tweets

By uploading a photo from your phone, you could be sharing more than you intended.

1. “Want to make a big impact? Good luck.”

Twitter, the social-media platform that lets users communicate in short posts called tweets, has exploded since its launch in 2006, from 15,000 accounts then to 200 million today. “Active users” attract an average of just under 5,000 followers (those who choose to receive a given user’s tweets automatically), according to independent research site Twitalyzer — but the number of subscribers isn’t necessarily the best measure of impact. “Not all Twitter accounts are created equal,” says Twitalyzer creator Eric Peterson.

Harvard Business Review found 10 percent of users create 90 percent of Twitter’s content. But while Lady Gaga and President Obama rank among the most followed (roughly 12 million and 9 million, respectively), Twitalyzer each day deems a different user “most influential” — like San Francisco “interaction designer” Joshua Kaufman, who has fewer than 7,000 followers. “It’s not a popularity contest,” says Peterson; it’s the frequency and volume of communication — how often and with whom you converse — that determines who’s making a mark. Twitter, for its part, says you can have an impact whether you have “five followers or 5 million.”

2. “It’s not just photos that you’re sharing.”

Ever snapped a photo with your phone, then uploaded it to post on Twitter? You may have shared more than just an image. ICanStalkU.com was set up by tech consultants to alert Twitter users that their smartphone pics are embedded with GPS data, making it so easy to determine your precise latitude and longitude that “a first grader could stalk someone,” says cofounder Larry Pesce. For its part, Twitter’s image-hosting service strips geotagged data from phone-uploaded pics, but third-party services like TwitPic are still vulnerable. Twitter has twice suspended ICanStalkU’s account, calling the site’s cautionary tweets spam. But Pesce says, “If we thought of it, someone else much more evil and smarter has been using it.”

3. “Social media is a slippery slope.”

You don’t have to be a congressman with an unfortunate surname for Twitter to have a disruptive impact on your personal life. Tracy Musacchio, a college instructor in New York, says a friend “likes to Twitter-stalk” her, leading to off-line arguments about things she’s tweeted. And couples therapists are reporting that discordant views on Twitter and other virtual-media etiquette are being cited more often as stressors in relationships.

Tara Fritsch, a marriage counselor in Oklahoma, says she helps about half her clients with social media related issues. Sites like Twitter don’t cause partners to be unfaithful, she says, but “simple opportunity” can lead some to take the plunge. (Twitter says it provides guidelines for acceptable behavior, but “no policy could prevent” users from engaging in extramarital affairs.) Bottom line: “Don’t kid yourself into thinking that things that happen in the virtual world have no impact on the real world,” Fritsch says.

4. “We’re helping journalists…”

Many reporters and news outlets are turning to Twitter for instant material and sources for breaking stories. Its efficiency in generating swift and concise feedback on everything from viewer reactions to American Idol to on-the-ground developments after natural disasters have made Twitter a resource for journalists looking to tap into civic discussion. Gregory Galant, CEO of Sawhorse Media, says that before Twitter became mainstream, it was a forum for journalists. His website, Muck Rack, serves as a directory of journalists, which the public can use to verify whether tweeters are credible reporters — important, since news often gets broken on Twitter before major news outlets report it. For example, he says, in June 2009, “news of Michael Jackson’s death was trending among the journalists we follow” before ever hitting the mainstream media.

5. “…but also hurting them.”

The death of Osama bin Laden was tweeted by Donald Rumsfeld’s chief of staff Keith Urbahn more than an hour before President Obama’s official address to the nation and before most news outlets had posted it on their Web pages. That tweet turned out to be true. But as more top stories get broken on Twitter, journalists using the site to try to keep up with a never-ending news cycle sometimes rush to report information that isn’t accurate.

Thomson Reuters, for instance, was among several news outlets that erroneously tweeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was killed in the Arizona shooting in January. (A spokesperson for Reuters says the organization is now enforcing a stricter social-media policy.) And just how effective are the tweets by major news outlets in drawing users to their websites? According to a study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which examined traffic at 21 top news sites in the U.S., links from Twitter drove visitors to only nine of those sites, and Twitter referrals accounted for 1 percent or so of total traffic, on average.

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Beware of your social media history

Beware of your social media history

One firm collects everything you may have said or done online in the past seven years.

Companies have long used the criminal background checks, credit reports and even research on Google and LinkedIn to probe the past lives of potential employees. Now, some companies are requiring job applicants also pass a background check of social media.

A start-up years, social intelligence, scrapes the internet for all potential employees may have said or done online in the last seven years.

He then assembles a dossier with examples of professional awards and charitable work, as well as negative information that meets specific criteria: proof online racist remarks, references to drugs, sexually explicit images, messages text or videos, flagrant displays of weapons or bombs and clearly identifiable violent activity.

“We are not detectives,” said Max Drucker, CEO of the company, based in Santa Barbara, Calif. “All that we climb is what is publicly available on the Internet today.”

The Federal Trade Commission, after initially raising concerns last fall about Social Business Intelligence, the company is determined in accordance with the Act, the Fair Credit Reporting, but the service still alarms privacy advocates who say that invites employers to view information that may not be relevant to job performance.

And what a flattering relevant information has led to job offers being withdrawn or not? Mr. Drucker said that a prospective employee was found using Craigslist to look for OxyContin. A woman posing nude in the pictures she has set up a site for sharing the picture did not get the job she was looking for in a hospital.

Other background reports have been found examples of people who are anti-Semitic comments and racist remarks, he said. Then there was the job seeker who belonged to a Facebook group, “is America. I would not have to press 1 for English.” This raises a question. “Does that mean you do not like people who do not speak English?” Asked Dr. Drucker rhetoric.

Mr. Drucker said that his goal was to conduct pre-employment to help companies meet their obligation to conduct fair hiring practices and consistent while protecting the privacy of job applicants.

For example, he said reports remove references to religion of any person, race, marital status, sexual orientation, disability and other information protected by federal employment, where companies are not supposed to ask about during interviews. In addition, applicants must first consent to background checks, and they are informed of any adverse information found.

It supports research to reduce the risk that employers may confuse the candidate working with someone else or displayed on the Information Society that is not legally admissible or relevant. “Googling someone is ridiculously unfair,” he said. “An employer may discriminate against someone inadvertently. Or worse, they face all kinds of allegations of discrimination.”

Marc S. Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, based in Washington, said that employers have the right to gather information to make a decision on the expertise of job-related, but concerned that “employers should not judge what people do in their private life away from the workplace.”

Less than a third of the surface data firm Mr. Drucker just like the major social platforms like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. He said most of the negative information about job candidates comes from web searches found deep to comment on blogs and messages on small social sites like Tumblr, the blogging site, as well as Yahoo user groups, e-commerce sites, message boards and even Craigslist.

Then there are the photos and videos that people post – or are tagged in – on Facebook and YouTube and other sharing sites like Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket and Yfrog.

And there are pictures and videos that seem to get most people in need. “Sexually explicit pictures and videos are beyond understanding,” Mr. Drucker said. “We see such blatant displays of weapons. And we see a lot of illegal activities. Many, many pictures of drug use. ”

He recalled a man who had 15 pages of photos to show with different guns, including an assault rifle. Another man included pictures of himself standing in a greenhouse with a large marijuana plants.

Given the complex “conditions of service” agreements on most sites and Web applications, said Rotenberg people do not realize that comments or content that they generate are publicly available.

“People are led to believe that there is more limited communication that there is indeed, in many cases,” he said, noting that frequent changes to Facebook’s privacy settings in recent years may put people at risk to find a job today because of the personal information they may have inadvertently made public.

“What Facebook did was to take personal information from people they have available to family and friends and make this information more widely available to potential employers,” said Mr. Rotenberg, whose organization has several complaints pending at the Federal Trade Commission on the privacy settings of Facebook.

Joe Bontke, outreach manager for the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Houston, said he regularly reminds employers and human resource managers about the risks of violation of federal rules and laws against discrimination in employment using the online search in hiring decisions.

“The things you can not ask in an interview are the same things that you can not research,” he said, which includes the full range of information on the age of a person, sex, religion, disability, national origin and race.

However, he added that 75 percent of recruiters are required by their companies to research candidates online. And 70 percent of recruiters in the report that the United States they have rejected candidates because of information online, he said.

Dave Clark, owner of Advanced Impulse Communications, a telecommunications company in Southern California, began to rely on social intelligence for screening background, because it said the company needed a formal strategy and standards before assembling information online about candidates. “They provided us a standardized arm’s length how to use this additional information to make better hiring decisions,” he said.

About half of all businesses, based on government and private investigations, are now using credit reports as part of the hiring process, except in states that limit or restrict their use. As with background checks of social media, there are concerns about information that appeared. The equal employment agency filed a lawsuit last December against the Company Kaplan Higher Education, accusing it of discrimination against black job seekers in the way we use credit history in its hiring process.

But it is not unusual for senior high-level executives in many companies to submit to background checks even more complete by a private firm to survey.

“We live in a world where you have an incredible amount of information and data on all officers,” said Ann Blinkhorn, an executive recruiter in the converging technologies, media and communications industry. “I think it puts the burden on the recruiter and the hiring manager to be truly reflected on what is important and not important in the hiring decision.”

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Popular app Pandora raises privacy fears

Popular app Pandora raises privacy fears

The iPhone music program reportedly shares your age, gender, and even location with advertisers.

Online radio network Pandora provides users with highly curated playlists based on the Music Genome Project, an analysis of more than 400 attributes of a song that make it appealing to your specific ear taste buds. The cost of this pretty incredible service for most folks: nothing at all. Well, nothing at all if you don’t consider quietly sharing some of your web habits with advertisers a “cost.”

While you’re paying zilch to listen to Led Zeppelin Radio, someone is footing the royalty bill — Pandora, duh. As the service explains in its Frequently Asked Questions, it collects some personal information from users so it can help its advertisers — who support the service by paying Pandora cash money — target consumers that will be useful to them. The explanation for why you tell Pandora your age and gender: “The free version of Pandora is mostly supported by advertisements, and we want to be able to show the most relevant ads to our listeners.”

But just how much of your private info is flowing out to advertisers as “Black Dog” streams into your earphones? A new exposé by the Wall Street Journal seems to argue the answer is “too much.” According to the WSJ’s data, Pandora shares age, gender, location, and phone ID information with marketing firms on both its iPhone and Android mobile versions. So while advertsiers won’t have your name and email address, they’ll get their hands on a lot of info about your mobile phone behavior. .

Is that a fair exchange for hours of free music? Only users who stream more than 40 hours of music a month are billed 99 cents, and Pandora offers a premium paid version for $36 a year that comes with a few perks, like unlimited listening, no ads, and the ability to skip however many songs you want. Pandora does have a Privacy Policy posted on its website, which reveals the service employs cookies to “collect non-personally identifiable information” for tracking and advertising purposes. It doesn’t expressly say Pandora will share your phone’s unique ID number with advertisers, but it gives you a hint that that music you’re enjoying for free does indeed have a cost — whether or not you’re (somewhat) unwittingly becoming an advertising drone is up to you.

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Is Justin Bieber taking over your Facebook profile?

Is Justin Bieber taking over your Facebook profile?

Users who install the Bieberflirting application get an unwelcome surprise.

The 16-year-old pop culture sensation, who rose to stardom riding the wave of YouTube, Twitter and other forms of social media, is also the unwilling poster child of many malicious scams that are circulating all over the Internet.

The latest, a rogue Facebook app called Bieberflirting (which has since been removed from the site), generated status updates with a link claiming to show off Bieber’s fledgling flirting skills. Rather than seeing the pint-sized Moptop work on his game with the girls, however, the link sent unsuspecting fans to a page requesting permission to access their profiles.

Users who installed Bieberflirting lost at least partial control of their Facebook accounts as the nasty application spread around to their friends and contacts.

“You’ve just given it access to grab your personal information and to post messages on your wall,” explained Graham Cluley, a technology consultant for data security firm Sophos, in a blog post explaining how to remove the app.

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