According to runaway Snowden, US state surveillance program PRISM have been spying on people, including phone talks, internet communications and social network activities, and targeted not only foreign countries but also U.S. citizens as well as U.S. allies from NATO and the European Union. The U.S. special services have been allegedly assisted by such internet-giants as Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, YouTube, Skype and others. Representatives of the these companies deny any accusations, of course, but considering latest events nobody believe them.
In particular, Google has been blamed the most, and it is not the first scandal on personal data of users involving the company. Google has been repeatedly fined in US, Germany and France for excessive data acquisition. Now, a criminal case against the company has been opened in Spain. Russian authorities has not applied serious legal actions yet, but the Federation Council and Roscomnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications) insistently demand explanations about cooperation with American agencies and information leaked to them.
Big brother does not even blink
A week or two ago the State Service of Ukraine on protection of personal data announced that confidential policy of Google and "VKontacte" in Ukraine does not fully meet the legislation on protection of personal data. Deputy chairman of the Service Volodymyr Kozak told a press conference that Ukrainians do not even suspect who and how use their personal data. To clarify the situation ForUm decided to pay a visit to the official's office, where he showed us a special computer program meant for spying on spies. To explain how the system works, Kozak entered a website, and the spy program showed a scheme - a black kernel in the center (the website) and outgoing lines with smaller kernels on the ends (websites which register our step in Internet). According to Kozak, such situation is quite legal. "The only nuance is that users must be warned about third parties tracking clickstream data. This information should be mentioned in the confidential policy, published on a website," he notes.
The main goal of clickstream analysis is market research. When you work in Internet, create an account in social networks, create an e-mail or search information through search engines, the system creates your portrait - preferences and interests.
Google is considered one of the most active 'portraitists' in the net. Its system collects all possible information, including the operating system of your computer, your phone number, present position (GSP signal, Wi-Fi and nearest cell tower register your location), as well as all information a user provides about himself in his profile. If you buy with e-money, Google will remember requisites of your bank card, if you click "like" on a website, the system will identify you by your page in a social network.
"Even if you change the computer or use several devices simultaneously, the system will identify your finger print anyway - particularities of browser settings, installed programs, even characteristics of text typing," Volodymyr Kozak says. He also underlines that Google does not specify how long it keeps the information or over what time it destroys it. "At the same time you can apply to Facebook and Google with a request to provide all information they gathered bout you. On one hand, such data acquisition brings certain risks. The worst thing is that analyzing your internet activity it is possible to define your political views and apply manipulative technologies. On the other hand, first and foremost goal of search engines is to offer better service and meet user's requests," he tells.
According to the official, there are not so many companies-portraitists in Ukraine: Yandex, Bigmir, Gemius (Poland) and Google Analytics. At the same time Kozak assures advertisers that use services of search engines do not have access to users' personal data. The thing is that when typing one of key words a user will see an advertisement, best matched to the 'portrait'. Thus, typing the same key words two different users will see two different ads. "Here we speak about user's right to decide whether he wants to see advertisements or not, whether he wants his search history to be registered or not. The matter concerns not the risks or threats, but culture and respect for person's right to decide on the level of privacy," Kozak underlines.
None of the countries can boast of perfect protection of personal data, and almost all governments face complications when try to set limits for internet-giants.
At the same time, the very users put themselves at risk, publishing too much personal information in internet. Sensational story of kidnapping of the son of Russian programmer and businessman Evheniy Kasperski is a proof of it - kidnappers found the young man using data he published on his page in a social network: place of study, planned vacations...
The problem of revealing personal data concerns not only internet activity. We reveal such data when filling in applications for a discount card in shops and restaurants. No surprise we receive tens of SMSs with offers to have a drink or dinner, to buy shoes or cosmetics, to take a loan... "On my birthday the first SMS congratulation came from my bank. It said it would never leave me in trouble. I was so touched that wanted to invite for the birthday party," such ironic jokes are very popular in the net now.
Taxi services also like to remind about themselves and often send endless spam, violating the law on communication. Sometimes they sell the client lists to other call-centers, and users receive twice more spam SMSs. In this case you can call the operator and ask to remove your phone number from the data base. If your request is not met you can complain to the State Service on protection of personal data. According to Volodymyr Kozak, the Services has received plenty of such complaints.
Speaking about internet security, you can activate "Privacy" or "Hide" mode in your browser settings.
This service enables you to search the net without leaving traces on your computer. However, history of the search engine or websites you search may register information about your visit anyway...
Conspiracy theory or new phobias
On the other hand, it is important to understand that your e-mails, accounts and requests are analyzed not by living people, but by special computer programs, thus you cannot say that the correspondence privacy is violated. Moreover, it is not always easy to find or identify a user, both programmers and the Service of protection of personal data admit.
"If a user has a dynamic IP address it becomes complicated to find and identify him," programmer of a pirate firm Mykola says. Moreover, he reminds that a modern man uses more than once electronic device and often has more than one computer at home, being used by the whole family. "This story about tracking is not new. It may resemble the world of SkyNet, like in "Terminator" movie, but still it is not a conspiracy theory, but a new reality," he notes.
Meantime ForUm recommends users to follow simple rules to protect personal data in the net:
1. Check you personal pages in social networks, live journals and blogs. If they contain private and personal information, kill it, even if you are registered under an assumed name.
2. If you correspondence in social networks and e-mail can compromise someone, do not write too personal stuff, change passwords more often and delete letters, which can harm someone.
3. Do not open letters labeled as "Spam". Such letters may contain viruses meant for stealing information from user's computer (and you may never know about it).
4. If clicking on a website a warning or alert pops up, do not risk proceeding, as the website may contain infected files.
5. Install decent anti-virus program.
6. And finally, use "Hide/Privacy" option to avoid file cashing on your computer.
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