8 Tips to Protect your Online Privacy

9th Nov 2020

In our mission to educate we will be pointing you towards invaluable online resources. Protecting your privacy and disabling virtual tracking of your online behaviours seems a great place to start, here is a summary of a longer investigative piece from NPR reporter Laura Walmsley.

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If you still lock your front door and don’t write down your bank details to give to strangers then you should develop similar habits when you are online to protect your data. Data security is the virtual equivalent of your front door and helps protect you from being hacked and having money stolen, whereas data privacy is focused on preventing the tracking of your online movements by those who sell that information to advertisers or those trying to track you for surveillance. Here are 8 tips to re-enforce your data defences:

Practice good security

1. Practice good security hygiene

Use unique passphrases (some random words) rather than distinct passwords for each account. Rather than struggle to keep them all written down and up to date use a password manager. Turn on two factor authentication (2FA) for the really important accounts where you want to protect your money, your health records or your strong opinions. You can check websites that offer 2FA.

And always follow prompts to update your software on your phone or computer because they are nearly always full of extra security patches which will help protect you.

Beware of phishing

2. Beware of phishing

Phishing is where text or email or phone calls are used to trick you into revealing your username or password and giving the bad guys the key to your digital front door “willingly”. Legitimate companies won’t ask you to do this so remain vigilant and suspicious of communications that look, feel, read and sound odd. Think twice before sharing this precious data.

Protect what matters

3. Focus on protecting what matters most

Think about whether your money or your immigration status or a court case is your most private data and double down on protecting that data. Prioritise your efforts. Some of the things you learn you will want to apply to all your digital accounts – but some security tips won’t seem so relevant to your meditation app!

Delete mobile apps

4. Delete mobile apps and use the browser instead

Look at your mobile phone and delete all the apps that you don’t use as some of them may still be collecting your data (from the GPS or contacts or microphone) in the background.  Use the internet browser rather than an app where possible – and that includes Facebook and Twitter. The web route doesn’t risk sharing as much data as the app route. For those apps you do keep and use, decide if they really need access to your contacts or your location? If you can’t see the value then turn those settings off.

Secure your text chats

5. Secure your text chats with end-to-end encryption

Text messaging, or SMS, has been around a long time and is not encrypted. The world has moved on to messaging apps which are secure. WhatsApp is more secure than Facebook Messenger. WhatsApp’s security means only you the sender and your chosen recipient can read that content. Alternatives without that encryption leave the door ajar for shadowy third parties to intercept and access the content.

iMessages on your iPhone are encrypted for other iPhone recipients – but not for Android recipients. An app like Signal is worth considering for security in this scenario.

Be suspicious when backing up your text messages to iCloud or Google drive. They are databases and databases get hacked. The best advice is “don’t back these texts to the cloud”; delete locally or back up locally if you need to. And go and delete your messaging history from those clouds so that they don’t hold it indefinitely.

Opt-out of tracking

6. Opt-out of tracking for ad personalisation

This one starts with a shock. Visit Google My Activity. You will be amazed. Delete everything you can. Find the tab that says “Delete activity by”. Select “All time”. On your My Google Activity page, you can turn off Web & App Activity, Location History and YouTube History.

Go into settings and turn off ad-personalization everywhere you find it upsetting that the company is tracking your online journey to offer a “better and more relevant experience”.

For Apple click here.

For Google click here.

For Facebook click here.

Take one small step

7. Take one small step

You can add one password at a time to a password manager such as 1Password* or LastPass*. If 100 passwords take a year to update then so be it. It’s better to do something rather than nothing.

Support law makers

8. Support law makers and regulators updating protection for consumers

This data game feels stacked against the individual with the power and value of data fuelling the global AdTech industry. Some $1.4trn of the combined $1.9trn market value of Alphabet (the owner of Google) and Facebook, comes from users’ data and the firms’ mining of it, after their other assets are accounted for.

In Europe we have the General Data Protection Regulation to protect the information companies hold on individuals. It’s a strong start and one not available in many other countries.  As individuals we can take some of the basic steps outlined above but we need protection from the law and law enforcement when it comes to data misuse.

Community

IPS is a community and we listen to each other to amplify our collective voice. We support the work of Ofcom, ICO, Action Fraud and others. We will have most impact on driving real and lasting change when our membership share their experiences and we can highlight a case brought by 10,000 people rather than 1 person.

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