What is Internet Privacy?

By Corbin HartwickUpdated on November 23, 2017

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What is online privacy?

There are certain things that people do in order to not have anyone else know what they're doing on the Internet. Some are simple, while others are more complex. They include:

  • Identifying themselves only with a generic name or some other impersonal piece of information
  • Not posting certain personal information about themselves on websites
  • Deleting records on their web browser or computer of where they've been on the Internet
  • Setting their web browser to not track where they go on the Internet
  • Using websites that do not track their activity, or installing programs that prevent tracking
  • Using web browsers or other programs that create fake Internet addresses for their computer

It's true that certain people abuse these conventions in order to conduct crimes or bully people online. However, many of these tricks are being used by more people every day to protect themselves online, by making sure that their Internet activity is nobody else's business. This keeps them from being harassed by cyber-stalkers, bombarded with online advertisements, or even censored by their government.

Why is privacy online important?

Internet privacy is important generally because people don't realize how much of their activity online is public or can be tracked. However, recent events have made the general public more aware of who can see what they do on the Internet: individuals, companies, and even government agencies. We'll explain more below.

Individual surveillance

Rightly or wrongly, there are certain people on the Internet who make a habit of tracking what other people do. For instance, certain businesses look potential employees up on the Internet to see what kind of person they are, including if they have any bad habits that could result in the company's image being tarnished.

There are other people who may take offense at something that someone says on the Internet. In response, they may decide to get revenge by shaming or otherwise humiliating that person. They may spread what the person said among their circle of friends, even if it was said in a supposedly private context. They may even go out of their way to find and share the person's personal information. In rare cases, they may decide to personally harass the person with threats and other forms of emotional abuse.

The bulk of these sorts of things happen on social networks, which makes maintaining your privacy on these types of websites extremely important.

Corporate surveillance

Many websites that offer their services "for free" have a stipulation in their policies that, in exchange for using their services, they are allowed to track what you do on the Internet. If you don't want to be tracked, they say, then don't use their websites.

For example, you use Google Search to find a website that lets you book travel accommodations for your next vacation. Then, you use Google Search again to find your bank's website, so that you can transfer some money over to your credit card in order to pay for your trip. Then the next website you visit shows you advertisements like these:

What in the world… why are you seeing ads for things that you just did on the Internet? The answer is that, by using certain websites and clicking certain hyperlinks, you're generating information that companies like Google and Facebook can collect. They then sell that information to advertising agencies, which then use it to display certain advertisements to people on certain websites, based on the specific person's browsing activities.

Government surveillance

There are some governments around the world that are very interested in what their citizens do online. Many of these countries have agencies that track where people go on the Internet and what they do there, looking for "suspicious" or "immoral" activity. Some governments even have systems in place that actually block people from going to certain websites.

Privacy on the Internet is of utmost importance for people who live in these countries. It allows them to do certain things online — such as watching a funny video clip, reading newspapers from around the world, or chatting with their friends on social media — that we might take for granted, yet are forbidden in the country where they live.

Now that you know about some of the ways that people protect their privacy on the Internet — and some legitimate reasons why they do so — it's time for you to learn how to be privacy-wise online. We'll go over some general privacy-related things on the Internet to be aware of, including website policies and targeted advertising practices. Then, we'll teach you some basic and advanced methods of staying private on the Internet, and explain why doing these things protects your online privacy. Lastly, we'll go over some of the neat technologies that help keep your online life strictly your own business.