Internet Safety: How Safe Do I feel Online?

There are days when you sit on the windowsill of your balcony and kill time gazing at the blue blue skies, your eyes squeezing shut at sudden flashes of sunlight. Hazy drowsiness follows and then you are asleep, safe in your la la land of dreams, memories and imaginary creatures.

The windowsill is not really a safe corner to be perched on; you could fall off at any moment. However, your dream state saves you from thinking about the fall. In your dream, there are no logical boundaries of reason and laws. Rationality takes a backseat to our first instinct – that of exploration.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time…”
T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

The way I see the Internet – a place of exploration – does leave some space for fears or apprehensions. It’s partly a romanticized Safari trip, with the World Wide Web as a crude compass. Fistfuls of information about my life are uploaded online. Names of family, number of friends, a tracing of my work life, places I have lived and loved in, daily chit chats and religiously updated tweets that flow at the speed of our neural networks. Ask me what is NOT online!

The other part I navigate with caution. I remember the first time I chanced upon an ‘adult’ site. ‘Enter only if you are 18’ it boldly stated. But at 14 I was only too eager to ignore the conditional grammar. When I started playing around with the Net, I wasn’t aware that crimes could be committed online. It’s not as if the guys policing the song downloading websites would come home and hack me to pieces right. I was physically safe in my computer station at home because I was clueless about the interconnectivity of the service provider and larger servers and terms such as IP address.

And come on, how could my safety be jeopardized when I was only tinkering with AltaVista search engine and Yahoo Chat Rooms! We were warned by family members familiar with the Net to never give out real information while chatting – so I became Suzy Q in the WhitesOnly chat room. That’s all. Precaution taken. Random folks wanting to befriend me on various social media sites that I am a member of are a strict no-no. So are spam mails, money wanted mails, forwarded mails. When it comes to shopping, I trust my brother or husband to do the deed for me (gender and technology, I know!). I have qualms about giving up my credit card number and password online.

I still think twice before uploading pictures online – why would my 150 Facebook friends want to see pictures of me attending my cousin and my brother in law’s wedding? Ridiculous? Or maybe, I am a decade too late. Would it be fun to share photos of the Taiwan workshop? Yes! Because it has relevance to a group of people who have participated in the event. Would I share financial information online? No! Would I put up my final will online? No! Would I put up my medical records online? No sane person would carry such documents while on a Safari trip right? I guess it’s the way you define the term ‘exploration’ in the online world.

Today, it has come to mean pursuing work options, making friends, networking for social inclusiveness, collaborating with virtual strangers on projects, pursuing leisure activities, shopping, and sometimes idle, mindless surfing. In all these activities, there is scope to be duped, cheated, ostracised, badgered and even lawfully prosecuted. The need to temper the contours of your digital life arises because the digital world has come to mimic the real world when it comes to crime, corruption and fraud. However, we do not have laws yet that take off from the offline world. Sex offenders online don’t get punished habitually as they might in the real world. Rare in the real world, rarer still in digitalia.

Where does that leave those clueless first timers or arrogant often timers or those naive enough like me who believe that no REAL harm can come off the Net? It’s random luck that I have escaped phishing, online fraud, forgery or worse, at least for me – been morphed into a compromising photograph or video online! They say once you put up information about yourself out there, it’s virtually impossible to completely wipe it clean from cyberspace. Why am I still not scared?

Nilofar Ansher

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