In today’s digital age, protecting your privacy online is more important than ever. Your online activities generate a vast amount of data, and unfortunately, not everyone has your best interests at heart. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to shield yourself from unwanted surveillance and maintain control over your personal information. Here are some key strategies:
1. Be Conscious of What You Share
Think before you post any personal information online. Every detail you share online leaves behind a digital footprint that could be exploited or used to target you. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Think Before You Post
Carefully consider if you really need to share personal details like your address, phone number, or birthdate on public platforms. That information could potentially be accessed by anyone and used for nefarious purposes. When in doubt, keep it private.
Beware of Oversharing on Social Media
It’s tempting to share endless life updates and personal information on social media, but this makes you vulnerable. Oversharing details about your daily routine, vacation plans, relationship issues or other struggles can facilitate stalking, burglary, identity theft and online scams targeted specifically at you.
Control Your Privacy Settings
Most social networks and online services allow you to restrict who can view your posts, see your profile information and access your location data. Set these to maximum privacy. Give access only to people you know and trust. Regularly check that these settings have not been changed without your knowledge.
2. Secure Your Online Accounts
Your online accounts contain a wealth of sensitive personal and financial information. Fortify their security with these precautions:
Create Strong Passwords
Avoid obvious passwords like your birthday, names of loved ones or dictionary words. Cybercriminals can easily guess these. Create unique passwords for each account using random combinations of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Consider using a password manager app to create and store strong, randomized passwords.
Enable Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication adds an extra security step to account logins. You must enter a randomly generated numeric code from your phone as well as your password. This means that even someone who knows your password cannot access your account without also having your phone. Enable 2FA on as many accounts as possible.
Beware of Phishing Scams
Cybercriminals use phishing emails and fake login pages to steal passwords and personal information. Scrutinize any unexpected emails asking you to login or provide sensitive data. Check that email addresses and URLs are legitimate. Never enter your login credentials after clicking a link in a suspicious email.
3. Use Privacy-Focused Tools and Services
Specialized tools and privacy-centric online services can help shield your browsing activity and personal information from surveillance and data collection:
Choose Privacy-Conscious Browsers
Web browsers like Firefox and DuckDuckGo prioritize user privacy. They block online trackers, provide private browsing modes, don’t retain your search and browsing history and come configured for enhanced security.
Utilize Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
VPN services create an encrypted tunnel between your devices and the internet, hiding your online activity and obscuring your location. Choose a reputable paid VPN provider who can demonstrate a commitment to protecting customer privacy through independent audits.
Install Ad and Tracker Blockers
Specialized browser extensions can prevent companies from tracking your online activity and building detailed profiles for targeted advertising. Install tracker blockers like Privacy Badger and ad blockers like uBlock Origin. These send ‘do not track’ signals to websites.
4. Be Mindful of Data Breaches
Unfortunately, companies that hold your personal data get hacked all too often. Here’s how to stay on top of this threat:
Stay Informed About Data Breaches
Regularly visit websites like Have I Been Pwned? where you can check if your email address or phone number appears in stolen credential dumps from known data breaches. You’ll also get alerts about new breaches containing your information.
Immediately Change Passwords When Necessary
If you learn your credentials have been compromised in a breach, urgently change that password and any others that used the same or variations. Also change passwords for associated accounts e.g. email account passwords if your social media was breached.
Consider a Password Manager With Breach Alerts
Password manager apps like 1Password and LastPass offer notifications if saved login credentials appear among stolen data in a breach. This allows you to swiftly reset passwords before criminals exploit them. Consider using one of these managers.
5. Advocate for Improved Privacy Legislation
There’s power in numbers. Join the rising call for better legal protection of our online privacy:
Support Pro-Privacy Organizations
Non-profits like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access Now and Fight for the Future are working hard to defend online privacy rights. Read their updates, sign their petitions and donate to support their work if you can.
Contact Your Elected Representatives
Let your local, state and national government representatives know that online privacy matters to you. Write to them urging the need for legislation granting users more control over their personal data and limiting what information can be collected about them without their consent.
Remember, Protecting Your Privacy is an Ongoing Process
Online privacy risks evolve rapidly as technology advances. Set aside time regularly to revisit the precautions above – don’t just set them and forget them! Read news updates about emerging privacy threats. Together through vigilance and collective action, we can work to take back control of our personal data.