There is probably a lot of information about you in cyberspace. If you have a Facebook account, or know people with a Facebook account, it's almost a certainty.
The issue leaped into the headlines in early December when Facebook made changes to its privacy settings. It was supposed to simplify things but one result was the removal of the option for users to hide themselves from the site's main search tool.
"Many people posted stuff on their timelines that they did not expect to be publicly searcheable," Mark Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said at the time.
But it's not just your comments on Facebook, but photographs too. People post millions of pictures of family and friends, and if you happen to be in the picture – and even “tagged” with your name – your image is there for all to see and no one asks you for permission.
And because pictures are easily downloaded from the Internet, once a picture of you is out there, it can end up anywhere. Vikash, of Punjab, Pakistan, reports that she discovered her likeness as the ID for someone else's Facebook account.
“I wish to make a complaint against Facebook not blocking a Facebook ID that's using my photo as the profile picture,” she wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. Facebook ID (name redacted) is a fake ID and it used my photo as the profile picture.
Then there's the recent example of a California woman whose Facebook pictures became the image of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend. Your likeness, it seems, is out of control. Just ask 17 women in Texas.
The women have joined a class-action lawsuit against a “revenge-porn” website, claiming ex-boyfriends published nude photographs of them on the site. The women are suing Texxxan.com, as well as Godaddy.com, a commercial website hosting service, and all subscribing members.
The women claim their former lovers, angry at being dumped, published the photographs in an attempt to humiliate them, in an act of revenge.
"I'm going after the revenge porn industry," attorney John Morgan told the Houston Chronicle. "Those sickos who post private information of women without their knowledge."
It may be an extreme example, but it highlights the difficulty consumers have in maintaining control over their image in the Internet age. But what about other kinds of private data?
Little or no control
Microsoft, citing a survey showing 45 percent of U.S. adults feel they have little or no control over the personal information companies gather about them while they are browsing the Web or using online services, is promoting new privacy features in Windows 8.
"As online activities have become a valuable part of daily life, privacy is incredibly important,” said Brendon Lynch, Microsoft's chief privacy officer.
Microsoft has produced a series of web videos that explains how consumers can use the new privacy tools in the operating system.
Privacy risks, of course, are not confined to your desktop PC but increasingly are found on your mobile devices. Trend Micro, a security software company, found an explosion in Android threats in 2012, with new Android malware outpacing PC malware by a ratio of 14 to three.
Social media platforms continued to grow as areas of concern with attackers targeting them more, users putting themselves at risk by oversharing on them, and their legitimate services being co-opted to support cybercriminal activities, the company said.
How does your mobile device become compromised? In many cases it's done by downloading an app that is actually a front for malware. You can provide some measure of protection by only downloading apps from reputable sources. An app promoted through an unsolicited text or email is probably compromised.