Playing safely on the internet

Playing safely on the internet

Postby shawarma » 29 Aug 2008, 20:02

Here's a list of some suggested do's and don'ts when playing on the internet. Feel free to add your own comments :).

Remember that anything you post on a website, forum, blog, anywhere else on the internet, is very difficult to remove completely. Even if you delete your comments from the original forum / blog, or delete pages from the website, search engines keep that information archived for many months, if not forever, and there are special websites that archive a lot of what's on the internet (archive.org is the best example, although it might be blocked in the UAE)

Website forms

When entering information on a website form - registration, joining a mailing list, requesting some information, etc:
  1. First set up a free online email account (gmail, hotmail, yahoo etc) which you use for anything you're not sure about. Don't use your main personal account. With gmail you can set up email forwarding so everything goes to your main account, which you can switch off anytime you want.
  2. Enter only the bare minimum necessary - leave as many fields blank as you can.
  3. Give as much fake information as possible (almost no one needs to know your birthdate for example so either leave it blank or make something up). Keep the fake information as simple and as easy to remember as possible - it's easy to forget and you may need it again one day e.g. your birthday if you forget your email account password.
  4. If a form asks for an email address but you don't want to give one at all, use mail@example.com since example.com is a domain name which does not have a website and has been reserved so that no website will be there. Of course, doing this is no good for registrations where you need to receive an email to confirm your registration.
Why? And especially, why be dishonest? Isn't lying bad and honesty good? Well, yes, in a perfect world that's true. But ...

Most of the time those forms are designed to collect information which can be used for marketing purposes, and send you lots of spam emails. Annoying but not necessarily malicious. However, sometimes you may be filling in a form which is designed by someone who has an insecure database that gets hacked, or has nastier intentions themselves. There are many people who have become a victim of identity theft, and it's not a fun thing to have to unravel. Your information is a valuable commodity. Don't give it away just because someone asks you to. Treat requests for your personal information in the same way as you'd treat someone who asked you to take your clothes off - you might say yes to the doctor, but not to the bus driver or someone in a shopping center with a pencil and notepad. For example, this forum registration is set up so you only need a username, email address (so you can receive topic reply notifications and communication from forum administrators), and a password. Everything else is optional (or should be - let us know if it isn't).

Of course you need to make exceptions when buying your airline tickets online, or shopping with a credit card, but make sure the website you are dealing with is not any kind of fake website, and is secure - look for https (with an s), rather than just http at the start of the website URL, and a small padlock image somewhere at the bottom of the screen.

Forums, blogs, social networking sites, chatrooms

As a general rule, don't reveal personal details like name, age, telephone number, email address, where you live, where you work, where you go to school etc. Especially if you are a school student. Would you put that information on a piece of paper and stick it up on lamp posts around the town? Occasionally you might, when selling a car for example. But remember that once you do, it's somewhere on the internet for good. If you're reading this and you are a kid/youth/child/teenager, the test for what personal information you would reveal is to ask yourself if your parents would say it's acceptable or not. It's normal that you don't want to listen to them but houses have been burgled, children/teenagers kidnapped or raped, and other unpleasant events have occurred, because someone clever and nasty persuaded someone to give out their personal information and tracked them down.

When making comments, even anonymously, assume your friends / husband / wife / boss / colleagues / children / parents will read it and know it's you. Thinking you can play on the internet anonymously is often a mistake. There's always someone more clever than you who will be able to track you down if they really want to or need to. Companies especially, are searching more carefully for information about employees, and discovering those embarrasing photos of you drunk and naked at the pool party last week. In less democratic countries it is of course wise to be more careful about what you say. As the level of democracy decreases, government sensitivity to criticism, and degree of monitoring usually increases. However, although organisations like the police and government security authorities in less restrictive countries can and do monitor internet traffic, the average person is unlikely to be of that much interest to them unless they are obviously breaking the law and/or somehow a real threat to national security. But for those who do like conspiracy theories, search for information on Echelon surveillance and make yourself nervous.

Don't let all this put you off though. The internet is a great place and most people most of the time surf happily with no problems, just be careful out there :).
Please use the forum for questions, not the PM system.
shawarma
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