What Your PC Knows About You

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If someone
could secretly stand behind you and monitor everything you’ve
done on your PC, what would they discover about you that you would
prefer to keep private? Thanks to new technologies that secretly
track everywhere you go on the Internet, that’s an appropriate
comparison of the threat you face unless you take advance precautions.

Perhaps you’ve
never visited a Web site you wouldn’t want your spouse, your
children, your neighbors, or the FBI to know about. Perhaps you
really do have “nothing to hide.” But if you do, you’ll
want to understand the threat to your privacy – and what you
can do to protect yourself.

The centerpiece
of this threat is a tracking technology that records what Web sites
you visit, what links you click on, and what types of search engine
questions you ask. If you’ve entered personal information into
applications that use these technologies, that data is stored as
well. All of it is written to hidden directories on your hard disk.
And there it stays – permanently – unless you know how
to delete it.

Usually what’s
recorded is innocuous. You might not mind that your hard disk has
a record of the movies you’ve rented, the fact that you’re
interested in photography, or that you want to take pilot lessons.
And you might not object to the fact that the companies that create
these hidden directories sell the information. For instance, a company
selling photographic supplies would surely be interested in presenting
an advertisement for its services to someone with a proven interest
in photography.

However, perhaps
your interests are a bit more controversial. Or even if they’re
not, perhaps someone with access to your PC has less conventional
preferences than you. In that event, the data in the hidden directories
could possibly come back to haunt you, should your PC ever be compromised – or
searched by law enforcement.

Say, for instance,
that you – or someone with access to your PC – watch a
controversial video on the Internet. Guess what? The Web site serving
up the video to your browser most likely plants a tracking beacon
on your hard drive, where it stays – potentially, forever.
Erasing “cookies” in your browser will NOT delete these
beacons!

The largest
offender in this regard is probably a program called Adobe Flash
Player (AFP). Many Web sites use AFP to deliver audio and visual
content. But AFP also creates a hidden directory on your hard disk
to track the Web sites you visit, especially those with interactive
or multimedia features. Companies that plant the beacons use them
to personalize your browsing experience, and also sell the data
they contain to direct marketing companies.

Since you can’t
delete these files from your browser, the most practical way to
deal with them is to install a browser add-on program to manage
and delete them. One such program is “Better Privacy,”
an add-on for Firefox. You
can download it here
. I’ve configured Better Privacy to
delete all AFP beacons when I shut down my browser.

I also suggest
that you configure AFP to minimize tracking altogether. You can
adjust its settings using a virtual
control panel
.

I’ve adjusted
the settings on my PC to always deny access to my PC’s camera
or microphone, never storing any content, and deleting all records
of Web sites I’ve visited that use AFP. Those settings, together
with the Better Privacy add-on, seem to have rid my PC of “beacons” – at
least those from AFP. These settings limit functionality on some
Web sites, but so long as you configure AFP to allow programs to
ask you for permission to store content, you can control which ones
have access to your PC. When you exit your browser, Better Privacy
deletes them.

Incidentally,
none of AFP’s tracking software violates any U.S. law; at least
none of which I’m aware. And don’t look to the government
for help – law enforcement agencies surely find beacons on your
PC a highly informative tool to track your Web browsing behavior.

With big business
and big government collaborating to invade your online privacy,
you have only one resource to depend upon – yourself. So if you
don’t want permanent records of your online life residing on
your hard drive, don’t call your Congressman for help. You
alone must take responsibility for protecting your online privacy.

September
2, 2010

Mark Nestmann is a journalist with more than 20
years of investigative experience and is a charter member of The
Sovereign Society's Council of Experts. He has authored over a dozen
books and many additional reports on wealth preservation, privacy
and offshore investing. Mark serves as president of his own international
consulting firm, The Nestmann Group, Ltd. The Nestmann Group provides
international wealth preservation services for high-net worth individuals.
Mark is an Associate Member of the American Bar Association (member
of subcommittee on Foreign Activities of U.S. Taxpayers, Committee
on Taxation) and member of the Society of Professional Journalists.
In 2005, he was awarded a Masters of Laws (LL.M) degree in international
tax law at the Vienna (Austria) University of Economics and Business
Administration.

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