Can you stay anonymous online?

Can you stay anonymous online?

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Most of us can't imagine life without a computer, but you likely give up some of your personal information every time you log on -- and chances are you'll never know it.

With every click, search, and purchase, you could be leaving a trail of online breadcrumbs.

"People don't realize what traces they leave behind," offered Stephen Pearson with the High Tech Crime Institute in Largo. "Especially overseas, there are countries that capture our information, like and China and France."

Some worry about our own government. Tampa's Jill Kelly is now suing the FBI, accusing federal agents of illegally snooping though her private emails. The ripple effect ended the career of General David Petraeus.

However, Pearson says illegal snooping takes a back seat to the open door we "agree" to give to our favorite online companies with one mouse click.

"The security, the privacy acts, all the things that are written are written for the company, not the user," he said.

Pearson says that goes for Twitter, Google, Facebook, and Foursquare just to name a few. He says the only way you can be sure to protect your privacy and maintain anonymity is to steer clear of social media.

But online companies need the reams of personal information shared on the internet to find you in a sea of people.

"Oh, it is so valuable for marketers to have that data footprint because they can better market to you," said Erika Matulich, a marketing professor at the University of Tampa. "I think it's sometimes important for us to give up pieces of our information so we get marketed to more efficiently."

Matulich says as long as consumers are given the option to opt out, she sees nothing wrong with tracking people online. Now, new search engine websites, like DuckDuckGo and others, have popped up with one very important selling point -- privacy.

"I don't want to be tracked," stated Largo businessman Darren Vermost.

He operates an insurance agency and believes his personal business shouldn't be shared. "Privacy is very important for me and my children," he continued. "Being the overprotective dad that I am, I want to make sure they are safe."

Pearson says, regardless of what search engine you use and online sites you visit, nobody should ever save a password in a browser and offers this example:

"Let's say you're using Google Chrome and you save all your passwords and you go to a hotel. What does Google do? It brings in all your setting and all your information from your session and loads it onto the computer you're at. You've just taken everything from your house and brought it with you."

That means your private information is loaded into a public computer for anybody to see, steal, and take control of your accounts.

Pearson suggests setting up an anonymous account -- stripped of any personal information -- if you plan to be using a public computer because once personal information is out in cyberspace, it's like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.

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