If you spend any time online, it will not have escaped your attention that personal privacy in online spaces is regularly in the news. If you believe everything you read, people are out there that can track your every move, leverage your online accounts for influence and reach and even see you through the camera on your device. These stories always have to be taken with a pinch of salt, but it is essential to remember that there are steps to take that will maintain privacy and protect you from any snooping.
We can take solace in the fact that there are individuals and organisations out there that devote their entire working lives to protecting consumer privacy. If a company does something wrong, you are bound to hear about it. This has led to law changes and companies adopting policies whereby control over personal data is returned to the user. You may believe that you have nothing to hide and therefore nothing to worry about, but if you want to keep things private online, the following 10 tips will put you in a great position.
1. Check Privacy Settings on Social Accounts
Relevant social networks are among the large companies that have been pressured into returning the control of data to users. In most cases, you can choose who sees your posts. This could be as simple as making your account public or private, but you can usually go even further and block specific users. By default, these accounts share more information than you might expect, and it is worth doing a privacy check-up to ensure that your information is only shared with the people you choose.
2. Don’t Overshare
If you want to keep something completely secret, then the best idea is not to share it in the first place. As much as social networks attempt to protect privacy or at least claim to, you never know when a new loophole or attack might expose otherwise confidential information. As a rule of thumb, it is best always to consider the implications if anything you shared could be seen by anyone that wanted to find it.
3. Block Trackers
Online advertising relies on targeting, and this is often achieved by sites tracking what you do and where. Such tracking has been at the centre of various privacy complaints over the years, but it is simple enough to block it. Various internet security tools can block tracking by default, while many adblockers and privacy plugins for your browser can make your activities impossible to track too.
4. Don’t Share Your Main Email Address and Phone Number Online
While contact information is not necessarily private, and the whole point is to give those details to people you trust, it is rarely a good idea to share it all in public. Not all marketers are honest, and they see any public information as an invitation to get in touch. It is ideal to have a secondary email address for when they are required, but you do not want to receive follow-up messages. This can then be checked sporadically, and with plenty of free options out there, it can be a few minutes well spent.
5. Stick to Encrypted Messaging Services
Your data is a priority, but the chances are that you do not want others to snoop on your private conversations. The gold standard for true end to end encryption is WhatsApp, which is so secure that even the service operator cannot access messages. Many other services, such as Facebook Messenger, are not secured in this way by default, so take care to start a private conversation where required manually.
6. Always Use Secure Passwords
All the efforts made towards increased privacy can be altered or removed by anyone with access to the original account, so it is important to keep them secure. A strong password is always recommended, and we would suggest using a password management service to ensure that every password is unique and difficult to crack, while still being easy to use in the right hands.
7. Monitor App and Extension Permissions
It is fantastic how so many different online services can work together, provided that the user has control over what is shared and when. Apps ask for permission to access photos, cameras and microphones on your mobile device, so it is important to make sure these permissions are assigned correctly. Similarly, browser extensions require permission to access data and modify the content, and this should only be allowed on apps that you trust.
8. Use Passwords even when Not Required
You are under no obligation to protect your user account on a PC with a password, not is a pin code required on phones and tablets. However, they are available and should be used in every opportunity, as they provide another obstacle for potential attackers that may seek to access private information.
9. Disable or Limit Notifications on Lock Screens
Most phones give users the option to see snippets of information without unlocking the device. You may never send or receive sensitive information and therefore prefer the added usability of easy access. However, if these notifications are likely to display something that you would not want anyone else to see, it is worth limiting the notification to the name of the app or shutting them down altogether. In most cases, this can be handled on an app by app basis.
10. Be Cautious on Public Wi-Fi
For those with limited data or a weak signal, public Wi-Fi can be a welcome option when out and about. If your cellular signal is good and you have data available, then it is best to avoid public Wi-Fi altogether. If you must use it, wait until later to do anything sensitive like logging into banking apps or using a credit card. It can be worth adding VPN functionality to your device too for added protection.