The ever-growing list of gadgets people use on a daily basis at home, school, and work can put them at risk for privacy invasion and identity theft. Privacy tools have become big-business in the digital world because of this threat, to protect users not only from simple snooping, but also from malicious hacking with intent to steal private information. While some privacy tools may already come pre-installed on computers, others can be downloaded online.
In environments where more than one person shares a single computer, such as at home or work, each person can sign on as a separate user to protect his or her privacy, which will preserve the user's individual desktop layout, Internet settings, and documents. These settings are password-protected and can be kept private if the user logs-off following each computer session. In public environments where a person must leave his or her computer unattended, such as in a large office, the user can set his or her screen saver to a password-protected setting. This means that once the screen saver activates after a designated time frame of inactivity, it will prompt anyone who attempts to access the computer for a password. In addition to screen savers, documents in most word processors can also be made password-protected.
Depending on a computer's settings, it may collect cookies or temporary Internet files from certain sites that have been visited, and automatically store them in a folder on the hard drive, thereby serving as a paper trail of Internet activity. Browser and hard drive settings can be changed to delete these files and block the computer from accepting them. Another way to protect the privacy of a user's Internet activity is to regularly clear the browser's cache or history, which can automatically collect downloaded items and passwords.
When it comes to protecting a computer from hackers, having a competent Internet firewall and anti-virus is crucial. A computer may already come with one of these systems, such as MacAfee™ or Norton™, which can then be renewed for a fee. Alternately, a user can download one of the Internet's free privacy tools, such as AVG or ZoneAlarm®. These systems can protect a computer from viruses, worms, Trojans, phishing, and other security breaches that can invade information without the proper privacy tools.
The popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook™, MySpace™, and Twitter™ has given rise to new concerns about information privacy online. Many social networking sites therefore have given their users privacy tools in the form of customizable security settings. These settings allow users to control which of their contacts and outside application developers can see their private data, which could include contact information, demographic info, photos, and more.