There has been a lot of talk about how the idea of internet privacy is a myth—that everything you ever did and will be doing online leaves footprints that can be traced and exposed for everyone to see.
This may not be too far from the truth—just look at how internet giants like Facebook and Google are using your browsing patterns to determine which ads to send your way. And if you consider the alleged “spying” within the United States government that filled the headlines this year, that comes out as the least of your worries.
Remember Edward Snowden, a former consultant to the US National Security Agency who spilled the beans on how Washington monitors and stores civilian communications? The NSA scandal, which even implicated high-profile names such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, gives us a glimpse of how flimsy the concept of “privacy” actually is.
Is there absolutely nothing we can do to protect ourselves?
Like it or not, we are fast-moving towards a digital world. The online space is no longer exclusive to the entertainment, retail, and tech sectors; educational, government, and even scientific organizations now actively encourage—sometimes, even require—participation in online discussions and transactions.
It may seem that there is no escape from the all-seeing eye that is the world wide web. But there are things we can do to achieve some form of privacy online. The most important thing to remember is to be extra conscious about all our online activities and to think twice before we click, post, or sign up for anything.
The following are five areas in which you can add some layers of protection to guard your privacy online:
Whether you are using a mobile device or your laptop, be careful when going online using a public access Wi-Fi network because unsecured networks make you prone to hackers and cybercriminals. Use a free or paid VPN service to have an encrypted connection while using public Wi-Fi networks. At the same time, if you subscribe to a broadband internet plan, learn how to restrict access to your own network as well. With wireless networks, take advantage of the password feature to make sure no outsider can access your network.
First and foremost, install anti-virus and anti-phishing software on your device and configure a VPN in Windows without the need to install software. There is such software you can download for free on computers, tablets, and even mobile phones. By going through some extra steps, you have the power to protect yourself from potential malware designed to steal passwords and confidential information. It is also a good practice, especially for mobile users, to put a passcode in case your device falls into the wrong hands.
Your internet browser is your gateway to the Worldwide Web and is thus the place where most of your privacy is lost. Through a complex system of cookies that log your activities, advertising companies send you ads according to your interests and browsing patterns. Fortunately, there are browser add-ons and features you can use to block ads and protect your privacy. When making online transactions, you may feel safer using your browser’s Incognito mode—available on Firefox and Chrome. Also, get in the habit of regularly clearing your browsing history and cache.
Popular websites like Facebook and Google have added extra authentication steps that require users to input a special code so that even if someone else obtains your password, they won’t be able to easily access your account. Take advantage of these features, when available. It also helps to log out of your online accounts when possible. Take time to double-check your privacy settings from time to time as they are also subject to change.
Check Your Habits
It is an era where everyone likes to share but obviously, you’ll have to think twice about sharing your address, phone numbers, and especially your credit card details anywhere online. It also pays to educate all members of your household, especially children, about the importance of online security. Knowledge and awareness of the possible risks can prove far more important than the most advanced technological tool when it comes to privacy protection.