by October 8, 2010 0 comments



We, at PCQuest, are paranoid about our privacy. You will see us writing emails in crypt. We even talk in code. We just hate people knowing what we like and dislike; and, not dissimilar to an old maid, we don’t like to give out our age, street addresses and other things we pretend to hold dear. But we too have signed up for the odd mistake, which spams us with lucrative offers from Nigerian presidents-in-exile rewarding us a million dollars if we lend them a few hundred dollars first, because we didn’t read the fine print. So we decided to give it back to Big Brother and looked at five popular websites and compared it to the epitome of privacy-Craigslist.

eBay
eBay, the worlds most popular shopping website has recently been under the scanner. The online auction house requires that you register before you can sell or buy anything through their portal. The information you enter requires you to accept their privacy policies. The privacy policy informs you that your information will be given to no one except those within the eBay family-“like PayPal, Skype or Shopping.com-to provide joint content and services (like registration, transactions and customer support), to help detect and prevent potentially illegal acts and violations of our policies, and to guide decisions about their products, services and communications.”
While you signed up for eBay, you are giving out your information to Shopping.com or even Skype. But how about StubHub, Inc or ProStores Inc or MicroPlace, Inc? The auction house also says: Some members of our corporate family, and some of our service providers, may be located in countries with laws that may not provide a level of data protection equivalent to the EU’s laws.

eBay however, assures the consumer that the data will be protected through various methods to meet the required standards. Though eBay is not the worst of the lot with several other shopping websites mentioning no names of partners that leave the door open for several partners who will have access to personal information that the user has no knowledge of.

PCQuest advice: eBay has a good reputation in maintaining delicate information private. But the recent hacks on PayPal, which drained user accounts, make us uncomfortable. eBay is still a worthy place to shop.   

Rediffmail.com
The website is the most popular Indian email provider. Everybody and their cousin have held, at one time, a Rediffmail account. Rediff has come a long way since the ’90s but the privacy policy remains vague. Rediff collects the information for collating data on their user-base. The information collected is standard issue. The tricky part comes later in the privacy agreement:

Alliance Partners
We will share your information with our alliance partners who work with us or on our behalf to help provide you the services. An alliance partner is a company or an individual who owns and manages (wholly or part of) online content on their websites powered by rediff.com.
We share email addresses with agents and alliance partners. The agents and alliance partners use the email address to confirm deliveries, send notices and offer services related to the service.
We do not rent, sell or share your personal information and we will not disclose any of your personally identifiable information to third parties unless:

We have your permission

  • To provide products or services you’ve requested
  • To help investigate, prevent or take action regarding unlawful and illegal activities, suspected fraud, potential threat to the safety or security of any person, violations of Rediff.com terms of use or to defend against legal claims.

The agreement lists none of its Alliance partners. Security experts remain skeptical on unnamed partners. This allows Rediff to legally share information to any number of its alliance partners, which could include companies/websites that you, personally, don’t trust.

PCQuest Advice: The personal information you provide when registering with Rediffmail is shared with Rediff shopping and all its unmentioned alliance partners. So while the mail service might be popular, you might want to proceed with caution.

Indiatimes
Part of the TIL, Indiatimes is one of India’s most popular source of news content. With the Times Of India E-Paper going behind a paywall, TOI readers have turned to Indiatimes for a glimpse of the newspaper on the web. It has a modest email service that doesn’t boast of too many added features but the privacy policy is air tight. It does not list alliance partners too but shares the registered users’ information with all in its family. An Indiatimes email id, will have you automatically sharing data with Indiatimes dating, horoscope, celebrity gossip and all the other subsidiaries in the network. TIL states, in its privacy policy, that it does not share any data with third parties. Advertisers are given all the information except name, address, email address or telephone number.
PCQuest Advice: The policy specifies where the information is shared. If you do not mind the odd unconfirmed sightings of your favourite actor, then opting for Indiatimes won’t be the worst mistake you make.

Facebook
Facebook has been embroiled in privacy disputes for months. The social networking website that was originally started by a college kid to identify the best looking girl on campus, it has become the reason why people log on to the Internet. The Facebook privacy scare has been driving people out of the Internet’s biggest phenomena since Hotmail. After several editorials in periodicals and an online campaign, Facebook changed their policies and hid the majority of their data from search engines, something that took a year coming. Despite all the hoopla, Facebook accounts have been hijacked leading to embarrassing status changes and webcam links. The Facebook privacy policy, in it self, does not let out any information but the user by signing on to the features that are externally run and are allowed by Facebook to operate on their platform has brought out the picketers. The applications is given data, that includes name, age, email id, IM name and all other information that might have been recorded, including all the posts on the website which are related to you.

One of Facebook’s more popular applications, run by Mind Jolt, is one such privacy trap door. It states:
We may employ third party companies and individuals to facilitate our services, to provide our services on our behalf, to perform services related to our Services (e.g., without limitation, maintenance services, database management, web analytics and improvement of the website features) or to assist us in analyzing how our Services are used. These third parties have access to your personal information only to perform these tasks on our behalf and are obligated not to disclose or use it for any other purpose.
However the way personal information is obtained by Mind Jolt is slightly disconcerting. A search for Mind Jolt throws up this result. When the page is viewed, the gaming portal automatically registers the user as on the database, linking it back to the user’s profile and all other connected accounts. If the user has been using an Orkut application that too will be linked into the game’s app. Thus handing over to Mind Jolt, your login id and all other information it can lay its hands on.
PCQuest Advice: We love social networking, we spend hours trying to unravel why human beings would spend hours clicking mindlessly on buttons to grow crops or feed fish, but the lack of privacy has driven many of its users to other social networking tools like Twitter, including some of us. Stay on it if you like to, but be wary of these applications.

Craigslist
Craigslist is not the best of friends for newspapers across the world. It has eaten into the valuable classified revenue on which the print thrived. The minimalist website has nothing to boast off but has been known to be the most secure in terms of transactions and information protection.

The privacy policy does not harvest the eloquence of legal experts but an elementary statement of facts:

  • We don’t run banner ads, pop ups, pop unders, or any other kind of commercial ads.
  • We don’t share your information with third parties for marketing purposes.
  • We don’t engage in cross-marketing or link-referral programs with other sites.
  • We don’t employ tracking devices for marketing purposes ("cookies", "web beacons," single-pixel gifs).
  • We don’t send you unsolicited communications for marketing purposes.
  • We offer email anonymization & relay, to reduce 3rd party harvesting & spam.
  • Account information is password-protected. Keep your password safe.
  • Forums use basic webserver authentication. Close your browser to log out.
    Craigslist also does not need activated cookies to sift through your Internet activities and lets you log on anonymously, something that most other popular websites allow you to. It does not record any credit card numbers by handing the transaction over to the vendors to handle the messy part of the business.

PCQuest Advice: The website it seems will keep your identity a complete secret. It is one of the best on the big-bad stalker friendly Internet.
The information you give out might not just add up to irritating offers to buy cheap Viagra and Rolex rip offs; a majority of the information can be used in identity theft. An Internet research said, over 60 percent of the people used same passwords across all their Internet accounts and they were variations of things like date of birth and maiden names. This information in the wrong hands is a security risk. Identity theft is not spoken about in great detail in the country, but it has started to take root. Next time you sign up for a service, check the privacy policy and then decide if you really are comfortable with the details you might give out.

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