Five New Year’s Resolutions for the Responsible Internet User


Though 2010 is already a few weeks in, it’s never too late to come up with some good New Year’s Resolutions. While “I will go to the gym” and “I will stop smoking” seem to be at the top of most lists, here are some tips and ideas to help ensure the “health” of your online privacy.

1. I will check my privacy settings for ALL my websites, phones, gadgets, etc.

Privacy settings are not just a feature on social networks. They are also on many mobile phones and devices and applications you encounter while surfing the net. It is important to make sure you examine all the settings on all the services you use. Some services allow you to preview what your “public profile” will look when strangers go looking for information about you. Take advantage of this feature, adjust your privacy settings and find out how it effects what the public can learn about you.

2. I will remember there is no “one size fits all” solution for my privacy settings.

In recent months, there has been no shortage of announcements from social networks and Internet companies announcing new privacy control settings for users. While these all represent great strides in providing users with more control, they are not a substitute for taking responsibility for yourself online and fully exploring these new privacy controls to see which settings are best for you. Often times, “suggested” settings might actually be less private than you think.

3. I will demand accountability from Internet Companies and Members of Congress in regards to protecting my privacy online.

As a brighter light has been shined upon innovations and how this has affected data collection practices by businesses, Internet users must demand a greater level of accountability from companies who refuse to be transparent about what they are collecting and how it is being used.

The line of responsibility in this matter does not end at companies. Congress, too, must step up and pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation that will put privacy control in the hands of Internet users. It is important in 2010 that people speak up when they feel like their privacy online is being compromised in any way. That’s the only way things can improve.

4. I will think twice and post once.

Remember, there are NO secrets on the Internet. Once you put something online it stays there, seemingly forever; online entries are nearly impossible to completely erase. Silly photos of activities that fall under the “seemed like a good idea at the time” may come back to haunt you.

But it’s not always the goofy photos you need to be careful with.

As highlighted in a New York Times piece last year, photos that are posted on social networking sites are not always used for their intended purpose. It is especially important to keep in mind who will be able to see the content you are uploading whether that’s prospective employers, friends, family or even people you don’t know. The last thing you want is a photo of your son or daughter’s birthday party somehow becoming the profile image for an online advertisement.

5. I will “drive responsibly” on the Internet.

Before you give away personal information on any of the various forms and checkboxes that you encounter on your daily Web browsing, take a minute to read what the site is going to do with it. The details of how your information is being used are often buried deep in the fine print of legalese and, admittedly, reading this stuff can be tedious, but the payoff can be big. For example, sometimes sites will “automatically” have boxes checked that allow your information to be used in ways you’d never approve and it’s only with careful reading that you’ll find these options. Don’t let this happen to you. Stay alert!

Well there you have five great New Year’s Resolutions for the Smart and Savvy Internet Household. For more information on what you can do to protect your privacy online, check out CDT’s Take Back Your Privacy campaign.

[This post was by Adam Rosenberg, the New Media Manager at the Center for Democracy and Technology.]

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