Are you a meaning-making machine ?

How your personal information becomes public on the internet Part 1

As most of our personal and private lives continue to be greatly resident on the internet, it is very important for internet users to understand that although the Internet permits us to increase communication, remove physical obstacles, and grow our knowledge. Its engagement with all aspects of our society has been quite intricate We normally assume that the same formal laws or societal rules that protect your privacy in the physical world apply to the digital world as well. However, the laws concerning online privacy are still being established.
Every site visited and any interaction that you may have had on your computer leaves a track that can be traced to you. Any information that you explicitly or inadvertently provide while your traverse content or transactions on websites is stored and used to determine your identity, preferences and profile.
a    Subscription to an Internet Service
There are thousands of Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) that enable your computers to be linked to the internet.  Each computer in the world connected to the Internet, has a unique address, known as its IP address (Internet Protocol address). It takes the form of four sets of numbers separated by dots, for example: This IP Address allows your computer to send and receive information over the Internet connection.  Depending upon your type of service that has been subscribed to with the ISP, the IP address may be "dynamic", that is, one that changes occasionally, or it may be "static", which is permanently assigned to the connection or contract for the length as the service.
The IP address does not provide personally identifiable information (PII). However, since the service has been bought from the ISP, they retain all personal data about their subscribers.  Most ISPs do not disclose their data retention policies. However, they are bound to disclose subscriber information on basis of any court orders asking them to do so.  Subscriber information is not made public but is retained for traffic analysis and purposes of national security.

      Signing up to an Email service or a List Server
The email communication itself carries a lot of information data about the sender of the email. The data included, apart from the content includes the IP address, the details of the ISP, the Mac ID of the computer or any other mobile device you may have used along with all the details of your location, servers that the mail used to relay etc.  Through email communications, users also give away a lot of information in the content which may or may not be private. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) makes it illegal under certain conditions for anyone to read or disclose the content of any electronic communication. However, below are some exceptions to ECPA
a.     The ISP may view private e-mails of its subscribers if it doubts the sender is endeavoring to damage the system or damage another user. However, arbitrary monitoring of e-mail is normally forbidden.
b.     The ISP may lawfully view and reveal private e-mail if either the disseminator or the receiver of the message consents to the scrutiny or revelation. Many ISPs require a consent agreement from subscribers when signing up for the service.
c.     If the e-mail server and software is owned  or hosted by an employer, the employer may examine the contents of employee e-mail on the system. Therefore, any e-mail sent from a business location, device or using a host server owned by the employer or paid for by the employer is probably not private. Several court cases have determined that employers have a right to monitor e-mail messages of their employees. 
d.     ISP’s may be required to disclose personal information in response to a court order or a subpoena.  A subpoena may be obtained by law enforcement or as part of a civil lawsuit.  A subpoena as part of a private civil lawsuit, defamation or a divorce case may disclose more personal information.
The USA PATRIOT as amended in 2006, makes it easier for the government to access records about online activity of the subscribers.  In an effort to increase the speed in which records are acquired, the Act eliminates much of process required to acquire private data. Online discussion and message boards are also list servers. These can be open or closed boards for discussion groups and sometimes the privacy policy for these boards allow inspection and disclosure of all the content posted. Message notifications or summaries are posted as emails to the participants and most of the boards archive the discussions.
a    Internet Browsing
Most internet browsers allow users to relay and store information and data to the website owning corporations. The data may be relayed through cookies or by the users submitting their personal data to register or transact. The browser also records the information about the IP address and the logs of sites visited by a user to the web site operators. Most browsers give users some control over how much information is kept and stored by the cookies. Users have the ability to change the settings to restrict cookies and enhance the privacy. A high privacy setting disallows users to use online banking or shopping services since authentication of users may become an issue.  Most browsers also offer a "Private Browsing" extension to increase user privacy.
Search Engines:  A lot of users on the internet navigate the Internet by using search engines like Google or Bing. Search engines have and use the ability to track each one of your searches. They can record your IP address, the search terms you used, the time of your search, and other information. Google has just updated its Privacy  policy to simplify it in March 2012. Their privacy policy lays out in simplistic terms what information they collect and how they will use it.
User search strings on search engines may also store some important data that users inadvertently search for. For instance if a user searches for any web information on his own personal information such as his phone number, the search engine string will retain that search string and the search engine will have a record of our phone number.
Most search engines also advocate that they need to preserve personal data of their users, in part, to deliver competent services, to prevent security threats, to keep people from gaming search ranking results, and to combat click fraud scammers or to ensure national security. Yahoo holds data for 18 months; Bing holds it for 6 months and Google for 9 months. An engine operated by ixquick (, based in The Netherlands, is the world’s most private search engine.  Under their methodology they remove all PII from user query before submitting it anonymously to Google 
 ( To be Continued ...)