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10 Everyday Privacy Tips for the Digital Age

Many people think that privacy is an outdated notion in a world where companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and others collect comprehensive data about everyone. Fortunately, there are ways to safeguard personal information even in a world where everything you do leaves a digital footprint.

1. Understand That There Are Degrees of Privacy

if_data_privacy_103465Believing that privacy is an all or nothing proposition isn’t very useful. The only way to stay completely private nowadays is to go off the grid, avoid the internet, and not use credit cards. That’s a legitimate choice but probably not relevant to anyone reading this article. Too many people, once they contemplate the extensive reach of governments and corporations, just give up on the idea of maintaining any privacy. There’s a middle ground. Decide what details of your life you want to keep to yourself and understand that almost every action you take in the digital world either enhances or decreases your privacy.

2. Resist the Urge to Share Information With Everyone

if_share_2852765In Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece 1984, Big Brother invades every aspect of citizens’ lives. The reality today is slightly different. In the vast majority of cases, citizens voluntarily provide their information in exchange for rewards and convenience. One way to keep your personal information safe is to stop willingly sharing it. Think before you answer a survey, join a social network, sign up for a gift (a common way to get customers’ on mailing lists), or fill out any form that’s not necessary.

3. Search the Internet Privately

if_seo-and-web-glyph-5-06_2145174It’s common knowledge that Google collects tons of data, both for its research and to sell to advertisers. The same is true for Bing and Yahoo. Here are a few ways to increase your privacy while web browsing

Use an alternative search engine such as DuckDuckGo.com which doesn’t track users. A more extreme option is to use Tor, software which conceals your information when you browse. Although widely associated with criminal activity, Tor is also popular among privacy advocates.

Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which hides your ISP. There are both free and paid VPNs. However, you have to be careful as this may set off red flags on certain websites such as financial institutions Some sites also block VPNs.

Frequently clearing your cookies and browser history reduces the amount of data on you that’s publicly available.

The HTTPS Everywhere extension, created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is a powerful tool for browsing the internet more securely.

4. Be Aware When Using Social Media

if_Essentials_Pack-198_2112103Social media sites are now among the most significant threats to privacy. They are excellent examples of people voluntarily offering lots of information about themselves for the world to see. Use these sites with caution and keep these guidelines in mind.

Keep your settings private. You don’t want everyone on the internet to access your profiles and posts.

Only join social media sites that you use. If you have profiles on sites that you hardly ever log into, delete them.

Don’t accept requests from people you don’t know. Just because someone has “friends in common” doesn’t mean you know him or her. On Facebook, spammers and hackers often use the trick of sending out lots of friend requests. Some people aren’t discerning about the new friends they accept, which means someone you don’t know might have friends in common because one of your friends unthinkingly accepted a request.

Leave groups you don’t use or that you never joined. Facebook groups are another way that people can track you. One annoying and intrusive feature of Facebook is that people can sign you up for groups without your permission. You can, however, leave such groups whenever you want.

5. Maintain Password Security

if_12_1526127Passwords are one of your primary safeguards against data breaches. Many people are far too casual about setting passwords. Never use words or numbers based on your name, birthdate, Social Security number or anything connected to your family members (e.g, child’s name or birthdate). Even a pet’s name isn’t safe because, if you’re like many social media users, your cat or dog frequently appears in your posts. Use a random series of upper case and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols.

Another way to improve security is to use two-factor authentication. When this is in place, you (or someone trying to hack into your account) verify the action with a code sent to your phone or email. That can get tedious as you’ll find yourself authenticating logins every time you change devices or locations. It’s still better than having someone steal your data or identity.

6. Shred Sensitive Documents

if_Flyer_105503In the digital age, it’s easy to forget that paper documents, as well as the internet, can threaten your privacy. Identity thieves commonly search the trash for documents, expired credit cards, and other sensitive material that was carelessly thrown out. A heavy-duty shredder is a good investment for keeping you more secure. Make sure you thoroughly shred bank statements medical records, bills credit cards and anything with personal information.

 

7. Think Before You Click

if_Thought_B_105158Just clicking on a link, either on the internet or in your email, can put your security and privacy at risk. If you get an email from an unknown source, never open any attachments. Nor should you click on links in emails if you have the slightest reason to doubt its authenticity. If it purports to be from a site you commonly use, you can always log into the site from a new browser. Another option is to call the company. You also have to be careful about clicking on suspicious websites when browsing. Set your browser to warn you about sites possibly compromised.

8. Educate Your Kids on Privacy

if_kids_footprint_329438If you have kids, it’s essential to teach them the basics concerning privacy and security. Many identity thieves target children because it’s often easier to get them to reveal sensitive information unknowingly. One common scam is to list other people’s kids as dependents on tax forms. Parental controls are useful for limiting children’s’ online access If they belong to social media sites make sure their privacy settings are secure. Keep track of their activity and be wary of contacts they don’t personally know.

One way to make sure no one has targeted your children for identity or financial scams is to request credit reports for them from the major credit reporting agencies. If your 12-year-old has allegedly applied for a mortgage or auto loan, you can be pretty sure something isn’t right.

9. Be Careful With WiFi

if_Handle_With_Care_507768WiFi is a favorite means for identity thieves and hackers to steal your information. If you use WiFi at home, make sure you use strong encryption and don’t share your password. If you do share it, such as with a friend visiting your home, change it later. Even if you trust someone, people can be careless about writing down passwords, and someone else could always steal it. Be especially careful about WiFi hotspots. Never conduct financial transactions using public WiFi.

10. Avoid Hidden Cameras and Mies

if_179_2076902People today love being in the spotlight and regularly post videos of themselves on YouTube, Instagram, and lots of other places. You may want to think twice about taking selfies everywhere you go, as this alerts the world to your current location. Even more importantly, you don’t want to star in videos that you never made. Cameras are everywhere these days, and hackers can also potentially access the ones on your devices. One simple trick is to put a piece of tape on your webcam when you’re not using it.

If you’re concerned about hidden cameras in your home or at work, buy a camera detector online or at an electronics or counter-surveillance store. Keep in mind that it’s not only computers that can be potentially used to monitor you. Watch your privacy settings on any entertainment devices you own, such as smart TVs. Specific models of Samsung TVs, for example, are known for having micro phones that are always activated unless you disable them.

These are some of the best ways to secure your privacy in the digital age. Keep in mind that, in most cases you’re the one who supplies snoopers advertisers spammers, and identity thieves with the personal information they’re seeking. By being more cautious and vigilant, you can significantly increase your privacy even in the information age.

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