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.
1. Avoiding Awkwardness When People See Your Computing Device:
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!
2. Avoiding Potential Revenge in Your Social Circles:
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.
3. Avoiding Legal Incrimination:
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.
4. Avoiding Being Profiled by Authorities:
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).
5. Risking Your Job Because You Were Identifiable Online:
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.
6. Possibly Getting Your Credit Cards Hacked:
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!
7. Protecting Your Family from Predators:
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 favorite park is.
8. You Like to Make Controversial Purchases Online:
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.
9. You Enjoy Controversial Discussion Forums:
If you like to talk politics or religion or other controversial topics online, you definitely want to sheild 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. Privacy Is Something You Consider a Basic Human Right:
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. So, What Do I Do to Cloak My Online Habits?
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.
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