Online Privacy: Best guides to understanding data collection

Following the NSA spying scandal, a growing number of people – including journalists – are becoming concerned about their online privacy. However, many people still don’t understand exactly how government agencies and private companies collect and sell data, how this data is transmitted and how they can make their data more private.

DW Akademie has put together a collection of online resources that help make some of the issues around online data collection easier to understand.

We Are Data

The interactive site offers fascinating insights into the information that controls our cities (even though it was actually created as a marketing tool for the commercial game Watch Dogs). The site gathers real-time, publicly available information from Paris, Berlin and London and presents it on a 3D map. After selecting a city, you can zoom in and take a look at the publicly available data available for a certain district, such as the location of CCTVs or cash machines or even the crime rate and average salary. But most interestingly, the map also includes personal information gathered from unprotected geotagged social media accounts, such as Twitter, Instagram and Flickr. It’s the social data feeds that highlight our online visibility.

Data-Dealer-300x110Data Dealer

The aim of this unusual online game is to slip into the role of an unscrupulous data dealer and collect, process and sell personal data. Because of its accessible and playful approach, the game helps you better understand issues around data surveillance and data collection.
Data Dealer, which was created by an international team based in Austria with the support of collaborators from Germany, Switzerland and the US, won the Most Significant Impact Award at this year’s Games for Change festival.

A Guardian guide to your metadata

If you don’t know what the term “metadata” means and how metadata can help identify you, the Guardian’s metadata guide is a great source of information (if you are curious, metadata is the information your data reveals, such as the time, date and location of your call or tweet). Metadata isn’t about finding out the content of your email, but rather where you were when you accessed it, for example. Such data can help reveal your identity. The same goes for cloud services like Dropbox. Even if you have encrypted you documents before uploading them to the cloud, Dropbox will still be able to tell when and from which location the file has been uploaded.

The Guardian metadata guide makes it easy to understand what data you are giving away each time you send an email, surf the Internet, make a phone call, take a picture, or make a comment on Facebook or Twitter. Just click on the respective icon to see the list of all the data you are potentially sharing with third parties each time you use of one these services or devices. You can then, ironically enough, share your results on Facebook and Twitter.


Oops, I shouldn’t have sent that

Have you ever sent something you wish you could take back? What are the chances that the US government will get their hands on it? You will find the answers to these questions after choosing a couple of simple options like “I am / I am not a US citizen” in this interactive website from the Guardian. Then you will see if you potentially could be under surveillance. You can also find out how the US government could retrieve your data. (To see the Guardian’s full coverage of the NSA files leaked by Edward Snowden, click here.)

NSA Customer Appreciation Page

This website is obviously a spoof and a good one at that. The satirical National Security Agency Customer Appreciation Page has been created by the anarchist activist groupCrimethInc. The site looks like a real page and gives advice to “customers” such as, “Carry your phone everywhere, even when not in use—the tracking feature helps us keep tabs on you”. The idea behind the site is to promote awareness about the NSA’s surveillance activities.

Me and My Shadow

As well as heaps of information about online data collection, the Me and my shadow website also has an interactive tool to help you learn about what digital traces you are leaving when you use online services and devices.  You can also read these 12 essential tips for more privacy from the Tactical Technology Collective who created the website (DW Akademie also did an interview with Anne Roth from the collective about how journalists can protect their data).

Where is this going?

This interactive map shows the routes taken by packets of information sent via the Internet. You can click on different online services, such as Amazon, Dropbox, Facebook and Gmail to see how the data travels as well as which security services can probably access this information. Did you know that using Skype from Germany involves sending your data through the servers in the USA and Luxembourg? Well, you will after having a look at the site, which was created by the German company, OpenDataCity.

Stasi versus NSA

If you are having hard time trying to imagine the scope of data collected by the NSA’s Prism program, check out this visualization (again by OpenDataCity) which compares the amount of data collected by Eastern Germany’s secret Stasi police with the amount collected by the NSA.

They-Know-What-Youre-Shopping-For-WSJ.com_They Know What You’re Shopping For

The Wall Street Journal has analyzed 50 top sites requiring registration such as Yahoo, YouTube, WordPress and LinkedIn and created this interactive infographic to show which data you are sharing with which sites.

How to stop getting tracked in your Browser

This guide by the Internet search engine DuckDuckGo explains how you are being tracked online using cookies, scripts, bugs etc and what you can do about it. The guide offers useful add-ons for five different browsers to help protect your privacy.

More useful links

If you are interested in learning more, check out this series of short animations on digital security, watch this series of short films to understand the issue of surveillance and pay attention to this guide to Facebook privacy.

By Natalia Karbasova for DW Akademie

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