Online safety for the modern individual

Grace Vanderhei, Chief Editor

An individual’s daily routine most likely includes technology, whether that be social media, internet searches, or emails as a society we have begun to turn to the media. As the internet’s role in our modern age continues to expand into different aspects of life, we must learn how to be safe and protect ourselves on the web.
Although the World Wide Web has only been around a short while, created a little under thirty years back, it has become heavily prevalent in American culture and is something that all people should educate themselves on. Everyone should inform themselves on how to protect their personal information on the internet. To better understand how to do so, internet-users need to recognize the concept of a “digital footprint”.
A digital footprint is defined as an accumulation of all activity left by an individual on the Internet. Therefore, a person’s digital footprint includes all social media posts, internet searches, tags, email records, etc. Essentially your digital footprint is ALL the information you put online, either directly through posting something or indirectly through actions such as “liking” a post or comment, it is also important to know that this digital identity follows you around forever. This record of an individual’s online activity isn’t necessarily private.
Obviously, social media posts and web searches of a particular name can be viewed by potential employers or universities to better understand the applicant’s character. These searches may result in unfavorable actions if the results are of some that display poor qualities or illicit behaviors.
However, some sites are not so blunt in how they scan your personal activities. Many online stores and other web pages may use cookies or other devices to monitor your accumulated interests and observed actions. These sites use this information to create advertisements or collect data specifically personalized for you. Your digital footprint is just one example of how privacy on the internet is compromised, social media is another.
It’s in the news constantly, that another social media platform has a security breach or some other form of privacy concern. Just recently Facebook came under fire for a major breach of privacy for over 50 million account holders. According to an article from The New York Times, this recent privacy issue is largest for Facebook over 14 years, with the hackers gaining access to the accounts, along with personal information of all those affected. As a result, millions of people began to deactivate Facebook accounts and coming to terms with the privacy concerns from the internet. “The news was enough to convince certain prominent users and celebrities to quit the network,” said The Media Today by Columbia Journalism Review. The prompt to delete account was motioned by celebrities including Cher, Tim Wu, and Walt Mossberg, and initiated the campaign #DeleteFacebook on Twitter.
It is not just Facebook, the social media platform Instagram underwent a major privacy issue in 2017, affecting over 6 million accounts, Snapchat’s 2014 security problems targeted 4.6 million users. However, among the largest security breaches in the 21-century include Target stores and TJ Maxx online stores that leaked credit/debit card information, and Uber compromised the personal information of 57 million users and 600,000 drivers. According to Pew Research Center under their article Americans’ complicated feelings about social media in an era of privacy concern, “ a 2014 survey found that 91% of Americans “agree” or “strongly agree” that people have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by all kinds of entities.” Studies have proven that hackers can get hold of emails, passwords, phone numbers, etc. on social media. With most social media accounts requiring information that includes your email, a password, and some very general personal information like a birthday, name, and gender. Hackers can get into an account with little effort with the help of shadow profiles. Shadow profiles are used by social platforms like Facebook to help new users find friends. Shadow profiles unintentionally allow some hackers to gain access to simple information like email, which ultimately permits them to take over the account (by simply selecting ‘forgot password’ and create a new one).
In the modern age of participating with the internet and posting on social media, it is hard to protect yourself with all the external risks involved. However, there are some ways to ensure that your information stays private online and that you can maintain a positive digital image.
Create strong passwords that include upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Also, limit the number of people you share your passwords with.
Use common sense about what you post. This includes posting your location or phone number. Make a point to not post anything offensive or intimate online, as it may come back to haunt you in the future.
Finally, take advantage of certain privacy features on social media accounts.
Always remember to stay safe online and make smart choices in order to protect your private information online.