Expectations of Privacy, Security and Etiquette in Cyberspace | School Project | By Cindy Bryan

Net, Etiquette








1. What are “online communications”?

Back in the nineties, the fax was the king for press release distribution, all newsletters required stamps, and only computer geeks knew what HTML meant.  Today, of course, trying to work without Internet access is nearly unthinkable, especially in an area like communications, where ease of distribution and cheap bandwidth made possible by technology are revolutionizing the discipline.  Online communications today means more than a website and an e-newsletter. incredible advances in communications technology over the past quarter-century make possible an entirely new model of organizing and ways of bringing people and resources together quickly and efficiently to tackle a single problem or to form lasting communities. In short, online communications today is about forming connections, creating community, and organizing action in previously unimaginable ways.

2. What level of privacy can I expect in my online activity?

The level of privacy from an online activity will often be clear from the nature of that activity. Sometimes, however, an activity that appears to be private may not be. There are virtually no online activities or services that guarantee absolute privacy.

3. Can online services track and record my activity?

Yes. Online activities are NOT anonymous. It is possible to record virtually all online activities, including which newsgroups or files a subscriber accesses and which web sites are visited. This information can be collected by a subscriber’s own ISP and by web site operators.

4. What are Cookies?

When browsing the web, many web sites deposit data on your hard drive about the visit. These data are called “cookies”. When returning to that site, the cookie data will reveal that you’ve been there before. The web site might offer products or ads tailored to the user’s interests, based on the contents of the cookie data.

Most cookies are used only by the web site that placed it on your computer. But some, called third-party cookies, communicate data about the user to an advertising clearinghouse which in turn shares that data with other online marketers.

5. What are Web Bugs?

A web bug is a graphic in a web site or an “enhanced” e-mail message that enables a third party to monitor who is reading the page or message. The graphic may be a standard size image that is easily seen, or it may be a nearly invisible one-pixel graphic. E-mail messages that include graphic displays like web sites are known as enhanced messages, also called stylized or HTML e-mail. The web bug can confirm when the message or web page is viewed and record the IP address of the viewer.

6. What is workplace monitoring?

Employers monitor the Internet sites that an employee visits when accessing the internet from the workplace.

7. Can an online service access information stored in my computer without my knowledge?

Yes. Many of the commercial online services automatically download graphics and program upgrades to the user’s home computer. The subscriber is notified of these activities. But other intrusions are not so evident. Some services have admitted to both accidental and intentional prying into the memory of personal computers. Companies typically explain that they collect information such as users’ hardware, software and usage patterns to provide better customer service.

8. Can hackers get into my computer?

When using a broadband “always-on” service, a user is particularly vulnerable to attacks by hackers. User should install a firewall device that monitors the network activity and allows only the activities the user has authorized.

9. What is spyware and how can I know if it’s on my computer?

Spyware is any software or hardware device that reports a user’s activity. “Ad ware” spyware is installed by software companies as an additional source of income. “Monitoring” spyware was originally intended for parents and employers to monitor computer activity, including file access and keystroke logging, to protect against improper usage by children and employees. “Diagnostic” spyware is used by software companies to log errors and usage habits to improve the next generation of software. The user is usually not aware that spyware has been installed – hence, its name.

10. What can I do to protect my privacy in cyberspace?

1. An account is only as secure as its password. Passwords should be created with nonsensical combinations of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. The same or variations of the same password for different applications should not be used. Passwords should be changed often. Don’t let others watch you log in. Don’t print your password on a post-it note and attach it to your video monitor. If you must write down or record your password, take steps to secure or disguise the information.

2. Look for the privacy policy of the online services you use. Most Internet Service Providers (ISP) have adopted privacy policies that they post on their web sites and other user documentation. When you surf the web, look for the privacy policies posted on the web sites you visit. Also look for a privacy “seal” such as TRUSTe or BBB Online. If you are not satisfied with the policy, or if there is no policy or seal logo posted, avoid using the site.

3. Check your browser’s cookie settings. User may accept or reject all cookies, or may allow only those cookies generated by the website user is visiting. You may want to set a security level for trusted websites while blocking cookie activity for all others.

4. Shop around. Investigate new services before using them. Post a question about a new service in a dependable forum or newsgroup. Bad reputations get around quickly in cyberspace. If others have had negative experiences with a service, you should get the message.

5. Assume that your online communications are not private unless you use encryption software. If you do not use encryption, at least take the following precautions: Do not provide sensitive personal information (phone number, password, address, credit card number, Social Security number, your health information, date of birth, vacation dates, etc.) in chat rooms, forum postings, e-mail messages, or in your online biography.

6. Be cautious of “start-up” software that registers you as a product user and makes an initial connection to the service for you. Typically, these programs require you to provide financial account data or other personal information, and then upload this information automatically to the service. These programs may be able to access records in your computer without your knowledge. Contact the service for alternative subscription methods.

7. Note that public postings made on the Internet are often archived and saved for posterity. It is possible to search and discover the postings an individual has made to Usenet newsgroups and blogs (web logs). Ask yourself if you want an employer, family member, or a marketer to be able to link you to your public postings. Use a pseudonym and a non-descriptive e-mail address when you participate in public forums. Create a non-identifying e-mail address and use it when you participate in newsgroups and other public forums.

8. The “delete” command does not make your e-mail messages disappear. They can still be retrieved from back-up systems. Software utility programs can retrieve deleted messages from your hard drive. If you are concerned about permanently deleting messages and other files on your program, you should use a file erasing program or the cleanup features of general utility software such as Norton’s Clean Sweep.

9. Your online biography, if you create one, may be searched system-wide or remotely “fingered” by anyone. If for any reason you need to safeguard your identity, don’t create an online “bio.” Ask the system operator of your ISP to remove you from its online directory.

10. If you publish information on a personal web page, note that marketers and others may collect your address, phone number, e-mail address and other information that you provide. If you are concerned about your personal privacy, be discreet in your personal web site.

11. Be aware of the possible social dangers of being online: harassment, stalking, being “flamed” (emotional verbal attacks), or “spamming” (being sent unsolicited messages). Women can be vulnerable if their e-mail addresses are recognizable as women’s names. Consider using gender-neutral e-mail addresses and pseudonyms.

12. If your children are online users, teach them about appropriate online privacy behavior. Caution them against revealing information about themselves and your family.

13. Use only secure web sites when you transmit sensitive personal information over the Internet. When you provide your credit card account number to a shopping site, for example, be sure that the transmission is secure. Look for the unbroken padlock at the bottom right of the screen. Also make sure the web address has the letter ‘s’ after http in the address bar at the top of the page.

14. Be aware that online activities leave electronic footprints for others to see. Your own ISP can determine what search engine terms you use, what web sites you visit, and the dates, times, and durations of your online sessions. Web site operators can often track the activities you engage in by placing “cookies” on your computer. They can learn additional information if they ask you to register on their site. Your web browser also can transmit information to web sites.

1. What is Encryption?

Encryption is a method of scrambling an e-mail message or file so that it is gibberish to anyone who does not know how to unscramble it. The privacy advantage of encryption is that anything encrypted is virtually inaccessible to anyone other than the designated recipient. Thus, private information may be encrypted and then transmitted, stored, or distributed without fear that it will be read by others.

2. How programs such as PGP can protect your privacy?

PGP and other encryption programs can protect a user’s privacy by encrypting the information so only intended recipient can access it and understand it (see above, 11. What is Encryption?). Strong encryption programs such as PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) are available online.

3. What is Netiquette?

Netiquette (short for “network etiquette” or “Internet etiquette”) is a set of social conventions that facilitate interaction over networks, ranging from Usenet and mailing lists to blogs and forums. These rules were described in IETF RFC 1855. However, like many Internet phenomena, the concept and its application vary from community to community. The points most strongly emphasized about USENET netiquette often include using simple electronic signatures, and avoiding multi-posting, cross-posting, off-topic posting, hijacking a discussion thread, and other techniques used to minimize the effort required to read a post or a thread.