Guarding Your Privacy

Paula LaBrot

For the live-your-life-in-public generation the value of privacy is superseded by the value of being connected. But what might you want to hide? What might you want to keep private? Why?



How about your health record? According to a Pew study, the most sought after information for purchase from data collection companies is your health records. For risk management reasons employers and insurance companies love to have information before hiring you or agreeing to sell you a policy. If an employer has two equal candidates for a job, and one candidate has a history of diabetes, no matter how well controlled the condition may be, the employer may consider health risks as a possible forecast of future absenteeism. Then, there are those pesky psychological records.

Risk management decisions based on personal data collection may affect your ability to get insurance, how much you pay for it or what an insurer will cover.  Data collection from a Ralph’s card illuminates eating habits. Data from a CVS card will suggest conditions you may be self-managing. Data collected from devices like Fitbit can track activity levels and “tattle” on daily vitals, exercise or lack thereof.

Then there is financial information. Do you want everyone to know your salary? Do you want your personal financial data shared or sold? Your bank or credit card information can even be captured right out of your purse or pocket by radio frequency identification devices (RFID) while you sip coffee with a friend.

How about all your photos posted on social media sites? The Terms of Service (TOS) of the sites usually include rights to share or market your photos. It is easy to find a picture of you online, copy it, collect your name and address from the internet and create fake IDs. Alert! Your children’s pictures could end up in some dark places.



Thieves and hackers can buy valid credit card numbers for $7, and driver’s licenses made in China for as little as $1. They can buy passports for $25 or pay $129 to break into anyone’s Facebook page, G-mail or Outlook accounts. It costs a bit more to break into work e-mail accounts, but you can buy people for…well, that is a future column.



Surrender to the fact that there is a paradigm shift in this new era. We will never have complete privacy again. Things are changing so fast, it’s enough to spin you off into cyberspace. You can, however:


  • Use diverse passwords for different accounts. Create long passwords (use a sentence or a tongue-twister) that include a number or symbol.


  • RFID blocks. An RFID blocking wallet and passport holder or a simple RFID credit card size blocking shield will help stop a hungry hacker from getting all that scrumptious information off the magnetic strips on your license, charge cards or passport.


  • SecureWorksSECO2123NUndergroundHackerMarketplace ( processes 220 billion cyber events daily and acts as an early-warning system that deploys counter-measures in a world where “Customer Service is the [hacker’s] motto. Hackers are now extending their service hours, guaranteeing their work and expanding their offerings to keep customers coming back.”


  • Have an up-to-date antivirus program. AVG and AD-Aware’s free anti-virus programs scored high in the malware cleanup and malware-blocking tests. For paid solutions, I recommend Webroot, Norton and Kaspersky’s antivirus products. They have the highest ratings. These products protect your device but not your internet connection.


  • Establish a VPN connection between you and your internet destinations. Your information flows out unseen. Your PC can connect to a VPN server located anywhere. Your web traffic passes invisibly from your computer to your VPN server, then out to the web. It looks like you’re browsing from the VPN’s’s geographical location and IP address, not your computer’s location. Any time you are using a public wi-fi connection, you should use a VPN. Otherwise, your information can be seen by hackers on that connection with very little effort. With a VPN, you can also access blocked sites like Hulu and Netflix when you are out of the country.  Tunnel Bear and Safer VPN are reputable networks.



A friend returned from the Chinese Olympics carrying thousands of copies of international passports in a file hidden among her hundreds of photo files. Her computer had been loaded up while she was on her hotel wi-fi and used as a hub to bring those files back to the States. Imagine her surprise when she opened that “picture.” Get a VPN, travelers.



Privacy, as we have known it, is gone forever. We are in Aldos Huxley’s “Brave New World,” but it is the people going into it that have to be brave and pay attention!  

As the Dali Lama’s mentor said to him upon leaving Tibet, “Things change, Kundan.” Vamos a ver!


Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyber space. 


Paula LaBrot

Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace.

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