October 19, 2020

Internet Privacy Traps

Maintaining your privacy and security on the internet can be a slippery slope. Altering permissions slightly or letting your guard down by not carefully considering where you share your information, can lead to catastrophic results. Here are some helpful tips to help you identify potential traps and avoid falling for them.

Personal Info Leaks
Have you ever started filling out an online form and then changed your mind without hitting submit? You may have been signing up for an email list or thinking about ordering a product before you decided to back out. If you thought your information wasn’t shared, think again! Some companies use forms that capture your information in real time as you type it. These are called partial submissions.

Partial submissions include the information collected from people who filled out part of a form but didn’t click the submit button. Why would a company do this? Partial submissions help a company

  • Identify behavior patterns
  • Capture lost leads
  • Find out what makes people click away
  • Gather more data
Clever, huh? Unfortunately for you, that means that businesses can still accumulate your information even when you never actually intended for them to have it. The best way to avoid this trap completely is to make sure that you’re comfortable with a company having your information before you start filling out any forms.

Not-So-Private Browsing
It’s important to know what is fact and fiction when it comes to using your browser’s privacy mode. “Private Browsing” on Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and Apple Safari, “Incognito Mode” on Google Chrome, and “InPrivate” on Microsoft Edge do provide some privacy benefits. However, there are some misconceptions regarding the protections that these services provide.

Things “Private Browsing” “Incognito Mode” and “InPrivate” DON’T do:
  • Allow you to browse the web anonymously
  • Prevent websites from identifying you
  • Prevent your internet service provider, employer, school, etc. from seeing what websites you visit by tracking your IP address

Things “Private Browsing” “Incognito Mode” and “InPrivate” CAN do:
  • Prevent your browser from storing the websites you visit
  • Prevent storage of cookies, user names, passwords, etc. 

Bad Motives Behind Dark Patterns
Have you ever tried to unsubscribe from an annoying email list but couldn’t find the “unsubscribe” button? Or tried to cancel a subscription for a paid account but the option to cancel was nowhere to be found?

The term “dark patterns” is used to describe the subtle ways software can discourage behavior that's bad for the company or trick users into doing things they didn’t mean to do. For example, when you eventually found that “Unsubscribe” link, it was probably tucked away at the bottom of an email, and extremely low contrast, making it tough to see. This might seem like a small inconvenience or not a big deal, but companies profit greatly off of users who get so frustrated trying to cancel an account, unsubscribe, or change membership plans, they eventually give up and leave things as they are.

Visit Wired’s “How to Spot--and Avoid-- Dark Patterns on the Web” to learn more about how to identify dark patterns.