Massive data breaches, marketers tracking your every step online, shady people exploring the photos you shared in social networks — the list of digital annoyances goes on and on. However, it’s not completely hopeless: You do have control over your data. Here’s how to improve your privacy online.
If you have social accounts, those networks have a lot of information about you, and you might be surprised how much of it is visible to anybody on the Internet by default. That’s why we strongly recommend you check your privacy settings: It’s up to you to decide what info you want to share with complete strangers versus your friends — or even nobody but you.
Oversharing is not limited to social networks. Don’t use online services that are meant for sharing information to store your private data. For example, Google Docs isn’t an ideal place to store a list of passwords, and Dropbox is not the best venue for your passport scans unless they are kept in an encrypted archive.
When you visit a website, your browser discloses a bunch of stuff about you and your surfing history. Marketers use that information to profile you and target you with ads. Incognito mode can’t really prevent such tracking; you need to use special tools.
Your reward for sharing your e-mail address and phone number? Tons of spam in your e-mail inbox and hundreds of robocalls on your phone. Even if you can’t avoid sharing this info with Internet services and online stores, don’t share it with random people on social networks. And consider creating a separate, disposable e-mail address and, if possible, a separate phone number for these cases.
Most modern messaging apps use encryption, but in many cases it’s what they call encryption in transit — messages are decrypted on the provider’s side and stored on its servers. What if someone hacks those servers? Don’t take that risk — chose end-to-end encryption — that way, even the messaging service provider can’t see your conversations.
Using weak passwords to protect your private information is as good as shouting that information to passers-by. It’s nearly impossible to memorize long and unique passwords for all the services you use, but with a password manager you can memorize just one master password.
Mobile apps prompt you to give them permissions to access contacts or files in device storage, and to use the camera, microphone, geolocation, and so on. Some really cannot work without these permissions, but some use this information to profile you for marketing (and worse). Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to control which apps are given which permissions. The same stands for browser extensions, which also have unfortunate spying tendencies.
Our computers and phones store a lot of data we’d rather keep private, so protect them with passwords. These passwords don’t have to be complicated and unique, but they should keep random people out. On mobile devices, do a bit better: six-digit PINs or actual passwords rather than four digits and screen-lock patterns. For devices that support biometric authentication — whether fingerprint reading or face unlock — that’s generally OK, but remember that these technologies have limitations.
Protect your phone with a long, secure password, but leave notifications on the lock screen? Now any passer-by can see your business. To keep that information from appearing on the locked screen, set up notifications correctly.
Public Wi-Fi networks usually do not encrypt traffic, and that means anyone on the same network can try to snoop on your traffic. Avoid transmitting any sensitive data — logins, passwords, credit card data, and so forth — over public Wi-Fi, and use a VPN to encrypt your data and protect it from prying eyes.
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