Privacy is becoming a rarity these days. There’s probably enough information floating around about you online that it wouldn’t be too difficult to build an accurate representation of who you are offline.
Governments, corporations, advertisers. There’s a giant war going on online, and you’re in the middle of it. Your data, your attention, your very soul is at risk. Beyond companies bidding over your precious data, there are a ton of other risks lurking online, like malware, viruses, phishing, and identity theft scams.
Yikes! Maybe it’s time to unplug and go off the grid. But, if you’re like me (and anyone else who needs the Internet to function, so, um, everyone), there is another way. It just takes a little bit more effort on your part. But when you think of all the potentially disastrous consequences that can be avoided, you’ll probably see it as a great investment.
Below we highlight seven different ways you can preserve and protect your privacy online without sacrificing your sanity.
1. Switch Up Your Privacy Settings
Photo credit:Athena Lam
Whenever you sign up for a new social media platform, or basically any online tool, the general privacy settings are usually set to share every little detail about you with the entire world. Take control of your most commonly used profiles with more strict privacy settings.
By adjusting your settings, you can choose exactly who you want your latest posts to be shared with. Now, this isn’t perfect. Your post that rants about your boss still has the chance of getting out. But you do decrease your chances of a crisis occurring.
“C’mon, over-sharing isn’t that dangerous, is it? Changing my setting is a lot of extra work,” you’re likely thinking now.
Think about it this way. You post on social media about the upcoming vacation you’re taking. You casually mention your house will be empty the entire time you’re gone. If you don’t have any privacy walls up, this information could fall into the hands of a criminal who knows exactly when your house will be a prime candidate for a break in. Scary stuff! Especially when you consider that some insurance companies will deny your claim if you have posted information that let thieves know your place was vulnerable.
Along with making sure your privacy settings are strict, you’ll need to be more mindful about what you share across social media in the first place. We already know it’s a bad idea to tweet about your social security number or home address (at least I hope you do), but you should also try to be mindful about what you’re sharing and who you’re sharing it with.
2. Block Cookies and Ads
Whoever suggested that we refer to browser tracking information as a cookie was a genius. Cookies are sweet and delicious. No way that delicious melted cookie would want to do you any harm. Well, we’re not recommending you stop consuming the delicious sweets stored in your cupboard, but instead cookies of a wholly different kind.
Digital cookies are employed by websites to track your information. For instance, Amazon.com employs cookies to track the last time a visitor accessed their website and then uses them to help recommend similar products.
Blocking cookies can end up being a little inconvenient because things like login information and automatic sign in might not function. However, this is a small price to pay for a little freedom from these sites who track your every move.
Blocking ads can go hand-in-hand with blocking cookies. Essentially you’re stopping a website from being able to track you and use your data against you.
3. Firewalls and Secure Connections
Photo credit:Anastasia Zhenina
How often do you pop on a free or public Wi-Fi connection, and start by checking your bank balance? Or, logging into email? Or, going on social media? If you’re like me (in my less than stellar moments), then this does happen on occasion.
Sometimes you’re in a bind at work or your WiFi goes out at home, so you’re stuck driving around in your car (someone else is driving; for you to be driving and worrying about picking up WiFi would be irresponsible) until a free network pops up. No matter the reason, you’ll want to ensure you’re protected. Think of firewalls as the spare blanket and extra food you keep in your car. You might not ever need it, but it might just save your life one day.
Some common built-in firewalls include Mac OS X Firewall and Windows 10 Firewall. A firewall will give you more control over incoming connections and ensure your data is safe from prying eyes no matter what connection you’re using.
Still, it’s a good idea to have some general privacy practices in mind. Don’t login to your bank account (or share any potentially compromising data) over a connection that’s not your own.
4. Strong Passwords (Yes, Again!)
If you’ve been following along with our recent blog posts (which you totally should be), then you might know that we’re huge fans of strong passwords. If strong passwords were Justin Bieber, we’d be a 14 year-old fangirl who happens to share a birthday with the legend himself.
It’s easy to get lazy and predictable when you have to create yet another username and password. But these are the first line of security between you and the vicious online world. Are you sure you want your password to be your dog’s name when you post updates all day long about how cute she is?
A great way to create strong passwords is by using passphrases. These are much harder to guess through brute force attacks, which try to guess your password by entering random character combinations. Passphrases can be anything like “cupcake_old_maestro” or “rock neptune bieber”.
Also, avoid using the same usernames and passwords for different websites. If one website is compromised, this can then be used to access all of your accounts. This can be very scary if your bank account has the same username and password as your Twitter or Netflix account.
5. Go Ghost
Photo credit:Wilfred Iven
Chances are, he wouldn’t fire up Internet Explorer and start checking his email (does he even have an email?). He’d be a little more savvy than that.
If you’re looking for an extra level of privacy, then consider browsing the internet with a Virtual Private Network. A VPN will enable you to route all of your data through a pro server, which means all of your user data and IP address is free from prying eyes.
The most commonly used VPN is Tor browser. It might be a little slower and some aspects might not be what you’re used to. But it’s a small price for complete online privacy.
6. Reduce App Data Sharing
Stop linking all of your accounts together.
I know the thought of spending all that extra time entering your email address and password to create a new account sends shivers up your spine. But, you have to think about just how risky it is linking every single one of your accounts together.
Sure, it’s much easier to press the ‘Login with Facebook’ or ‘Login with Google’ button, but what happens if that account is hacked? It’ll set a domino effect in motion where every single account linked to it is also compromised.
The extra few seconds it’ll take you to create and verify a new account will let you sleep like a baby, knowing all of your accounts lie safe in their separate and protected beds.
7. Use Different Email Accounts
Photo credit:Jay Wennington
I know this sounds like a ton of work, but hear me out. I promise it’s less painful than it sounds.
It’s a good idea to create email accounts for different purposes. For instance, you could have an email account for business, for online apps, and for banking and credit purposes. You could even forward your accounts to a single email address, so you don’t have to use multiple logins to access each account.
Think of this as another line of defense in the murky online world. Since most apps tend to have lower security protocols than private banking institutions, it’s a good idea to create a divide between these two worlds.
Protecting your online privacy will take a little extra effort. But, just like any new habit, once it becomes ingrained, staying private and secure online will be second nature.