Sunday, April 14, 2013

Using A VPN To Protect Your Search Queries From Prying Eyes

In 2006, AOL published a database of search queries that revealed far more than most people would have expected. Each user had a unique identifier that made it possible to see which users had made which combination of searches. Individually, each search query seemed meaningless and isolated. But when a combination of queries were attached to one identity, a very vivid and compelling story was told.

By using a VPN, you can make it very difficult for anyone to stitch together your search history and understand the needs, ideas and questions that are percolating in your business. All your queries are encrypted and directed through your VPN provider, which protects your business from a whole range of security threats. A VPN will also make your business less susceptible to marketing calls, explains boxpn VPN services.

“There are advertising products that make it possible to know that you visited a website, even when you didn’t sign up for an account or conduct any activity on the site. Nowadays, you can visit a company’s website and get a cold call from the same company five minutes later. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence, and that’s because it’s not. When you have a VPN for your small business, these sorts of problems are avoided, which brings lots of security and privacy benefits.”

In the past, VPNs were mostly used over expensive leased lines that connected companies’ offices together. An office in Hong Kong might wire sales figures to corporate headquarters in New York, and then the New York office might issue a directive to its regional sales managers across America. Now, those messages can travel over the Internet, and there’s no need to carefully consider how data gets from one place to another. For small businesses, it’s possible to get a secure VPN for next to nothing – around the cost of a cup of coffee each month, and you’ll get unlimited access and the ability to use servers in different regions.

Around the time of AOL’s data being published, Declan McCullagh wrote a fascinating piece in CNET in which he showed how easily you could understand someone’s life from looking at his or her search history. There were no names, but user IDs were all McCullagh needed to glean intimate details about the lives of AOL’s users.

“Based on the number of local searches, AOL user 1515830 appears to be a resident of Ohio's Mahoning County. On March 1, user 1515830 was trying to find the amount of calories in chai tea and bananas. But on March 9, the searches took a darker turn.”

After searching for “calories in bananas”, she searched for information on “how to tell your family you’re a victim of incest.” She searched for “curtain” and “pottery barn”, and then wanted to find out if you can “adopt after a suicide attempt.” Across the vast array of users, there were cases of people who were personally identified, there were stories that revealed possible criminality, and there were personal experiences with surprisingly deep and textured narratives.

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