Why Even Bother Trying to Stay Private Online?

There Are 10 Good Reasons Why, Actually.

It's so difficult to keep your privacy anymore.  In fact, 59% of American web users have given up trying to be completely anonymous online, according to a Pew Research Study. And unless you are running for public office, then why not let Google and Bing and Facebook track your online web habits? The intent is to tailor and target web advertisements, which is pretty benign, right? And your social media presence is safely set to 'friends only' viewing, right?

Well, truth be told: targeted advertising is not a life-changing benefit for anyone other than the advertisers. And there are negative social and legal consequences to online tracking which most people are unaware of.

And social media is NEVER private, even if you set your Facebook to be 'friends-only' viewing.

At About.com, we strongly suggest that you should cloak at least some of your online habits. We have 10 reasons why we suggest this, and we're pretty sure that reason #10 applies to everyone.

01
of 11

Avoiding Awkwardness When People See Your Computing Device:

Embarrassment: when your surfing habits get outed
Embarrassment: when your surfing habits get outed. Getty

You don't want to leave a web trail when you search for treatments for your sensitive medical condition or your illicit hobby. It will be awkward if you lend your smartphone or computer to someone, and targeted ads for 'depression', 'herpes', and 'how to have an affair' appear on your screen.

If you are using Google or Bing or Facebook to search for sensitive topics, definitely make some effort to cloak your habits with an incognito window, at the very least!

02
of 11

Avoiding Potential Revenge in Your Social Circles:

Online revenge: yes, it happens
Online revenge: yes, it happens. Rensten / Getty

Your social media friend might one day become an enemy, and seek to exact revenge on you by revealing your web habits to the world. Yes, people can be that petty and passive-aggressive. And yes, this really happens.

What would the vindictive person use to publicly shame you?  Well, in addition to any personal photos you've shared with that person, look at reason #1 above.

03
of 11

Avoiding Legal Incrimination:

Don't let your web surfing bite you legally one day
Don't let your web surfing bite you legally one day. Brookes / Getty

One day, you may be accused of a crime, and law enforcement will trace your web travels to build a case against you.  While this is low probability for most of you, the day that you get accused of a crime is the day that you'll be glad you took measures in advance.  There's no need to give the prosecutor any more ammunition, regardless if you are guilty or not.

04
of 11

Avoiding Being Profiled by Authorities:

Online profiling: your web habits do indeed become profiles
Online profiling: your web habits do indeed become profiles. Classic Stock / Getty

If you have controversial interests, it is smart to keep your tastes and interests private;  there are private corporations and government institutions who assemble profiles based on how you surf the Web.

Maybe you are a gun collector, a user of medical marijuana, or someone who advocates for a side in a religiously-charged debate.  Or perhaps you vigorously disagree with the current government, a particular senator, or some local business, and vocalizing your thoughts will get you unwanted attention.  In any case, cloaking your web habits is a smart thing to do  (see #3 above).

05
of 11

Risking Your Job Because You Were Identifiable Online:

As a professional, your web habits could cost you your job one day
As a professional, your web habits could cost you your job one day. Classic Stock / Getty

Maybe you have a high-profile professional job in the government, public service, or legal/medical/engineering world where it is imperative that you never be accused of impropriety in your personal life. If you participate in controversial hobbies or have strong opinions that are politically-charged, it could be a career-limiting move to have such information documented. And yes, this is a thing that happens.

06
of 11

Possibly Getting Your Credit Cards Hacked:

Savvy hackers can nab your credit info by surveilling your web life
Savvy hackers can nab your credit info by surveilling your web life. Dazeley / Getty

If you regularly publish your online purchasing tastes and personal life habits through social media, you are very attractive to cyber-savvy crooks.  These criminals will sniff out your information by following your posts about your pets and children, your Amazon and eBay buying habits, and where you like to shop and eat.  And then as soon as you publish that you're on vacation to Hawaii, then these online crooks get really excited about the possibilities you present!

07
of 11

Protecting Your Family from Predators:

Online predators love your social media posts
Online predators love your social media posts. Moskowitz / Getty

If you have young children, definitely curtail how much of your personal life you broadcast on the Web.  Cyber-savvy predators love to know what your favorite grocery store and park are.

08
of 11

You Like to Make Controversial Purchases Online:

Controversial tastes: not everyone is accepting of others' web habits
Controversial tastes: not everyone is accepting of others' web habits. Tizard / Getty

Maybe you like to buy products online that could draw unwanted attention: fetish clothing and paraphernalia, ammunition, self-defense devices, anti-surveillance devices, books about weapons, and so on. 

While your hobby tastes are not necessarily illegal, they can get you unwanted attention, social judgment, and possibly threaten your credibility and job security at the office.

09
of 11

You Enjoy Controversial Discussion Forums:

Controversial online discussions: make sure you keep your real life identity cloaked before you argue
Controversial online discussions: make sure you keep your real life identity cloaked before you argue. Taylor / Getty

If you like to talk politics or religion or other controversial topics online, you definitely want to shield yourself from reprisals in your real life.  When it comes to heated topics about abortion, labor laws, immigration, and other hot-button topics, people can get very emotional. Some people will actually wish you physical harm. They may even want to exact real-life revenge through vandalism, stalking, or even physical threats.  Definitely not a good idea to broadcast your personal details online in the event that you clash with a cyber-savvy hater.

10
of 11

Privacy Is Something You Consider a Basic Human Right:

Privacy: some of us think that it is a basic human right
Privacy: some of us think that it is a basic human right. Murray / Getty

In a democratic and free world, this is the biggest reason of all to cloak yourself against digital tracking.

If you share the growing concern that authorities and corporations have more insight into your online tastes and spending habits than they should, then you should consider implementing privacy measures to cloak your online habits. Whether or not you participate in illicit activities or questionable hobbies, your privacy is a basic human right.  And until an enlightened government enforces that on your behalf, you need to take personal responsibility for your privacy.

11
of 11

So, What Do I Do to Cloak My Online Habits?

How do you protect your privacy online? There are ways...
How do you protect your privacy online? There are ways... Tetra Images / Getty

Here's the bad news:  there is no single easy way to cloak your web usage.

Here's the good news:  if you make even some effort to cloak yourself, you dramatically reduce the chances of grief with each step you take.

Here are 4 privacy resources to get you started:

What Google Tracks About You (and How to Prevent It)

The Best VPN Services to Cloak Your Connection

Blocking Creepers on Your Phone and Desktop

10 Ways to Cloak Yourself Online