The Internet has become absolutely vital to maintaining relationships in the modern world. As well as our social network of friends from across the globe, we also rely on a collection of apps and online services to stay in touch with our loved ones who we see every day.

This has some interesting implications on what we say online. We are very careful to regulate what we say, depending on the potential audience. We are unlikely to share our deepest secrets publicly on our Facebook timeline where anyone can see them for instance. But we may use a private Facebook Messenger chat session to discuss deeply personal issues with a trusted friend.

The illusion of privacy

Some apps – like Facebook Messenger and Snapchat – claim to offer enhanced privacy protections. Snapchat promise that messages sent using the app are automatically deleted in 10 seconds.

As a result, users are tempted to share more sensitive information than they would using a standard messaging app. But there is a problem.

Take Snapchat for example. Photos and messages really are deleted after 10 seconds – from the recipient’s phone. But that doesn’t mean that the picture is gone forever. By taking a screenshot, or using another app, the recipient can keep a copy of the picture – and you have no control at all over what they do with it.

The app may feel private, and the app developer may promise that your data is secure, but nothing can completely protect your privacy. This is the “illusion of privacy” and it can cause serious problems when you take these promises at face value.

Hiding and seeking online

Security experts call this desire for privacy online “hiding”. Many apps contain features specifically designed to help us hide – and all too often they overpromise on how protected we really are. Because for every “hiding” app, there is another designed for “seeking”, helping to circumvent those safeguards and uncover the information we want to keep hidden.

Often it is the human factor that is the greatest threat to our privacy. The hiding technology works in principle, but it does not take into account what other people do, or their actions to expose us.

This is a serious problem because our trust in privacy technology can be used against us. If the system is secure and we trust it, we are more likely to share extremely sensitive information using it. When this trust is broken by a seeking app used by an untrustworthy contact, the fall-out can be incredibly severe.

Taking a default position of mistrust

In order to better protect our privacy, we must each take greater responsibility for what we share online. Tech companies know that people are concerned about their privacy, and they make many bold statements about how they will protect us.

But the truth is none of these safeguards is foolproof. It may be that if you want to share an unpopular opinion or some personal photographs, social media apps and services are not the tools to use.

To learn more about protecting your privacy, download a free trial of Panda Dome today.

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