How To Protect Your Privacy Online

This article focuses on How to Protect Your Privacy Online.

Privacy online is the ability and right to keep your personal information to yourself and control how it is used by others.

However, many websites, apps, and services collect, store, and share your data without your consent or knowledge.

This can expose you to various risks such as identity theft, cyberattacks, scams, and unwanted ads.

To protect your privacy online, you need to take some steps to secure your devices, accounts, and internet activities.

An image illustration on How To Protect Your Privacy Online
How To Protect Your Privacy Online.

What is the Difference Between Privacy and Security?

Security involves the measures taken to defend ourselves, our belongings, and our personal data, serving as the initial defense against unwelcome intruders.

On the other hand, privacy revolves around our capacity to manage access to our personal information.

How To Protect Your Privacy and Personal Information Online

An infographic on How To Protect Your Privacy and Personal Information Online
How To Protect Your Privacy and Personal Information Online.

1. Share less information with apps and services

To enhance your UI experience and safeguard your information against online scams, it is advisable to minimize the sharing of personal data.

A good starting point is to focus on social networks, while also being mindful of the data collection policies of any app or service you use.

Social media platforms and apps routinely gather data about your identity, interests, and online activities, collectively forming your online footprint.

Unfortunately, the handling of such data by these platforms may not always be as cautious as desired.

Instances of inadequate data protection measures abound, such as when Zoom linked user accounts to LinkedIn profiles, thereby exposing names and professions, even for supposedly “anonymous” users.

Another example is Facebook’s oversight in storing hundreds of millions of account passwords in a searchable, employee-accessible database without detection for seven years.

Here are some steps to help you remove personal information from social media and improve your online security:

  1. Share Minimal Information: Limit the details shared on your profiles, avoiding “optional” information like middle names or phone numbers.
  2. Create a Disposable Email: Safeguard your primary email address by using a throwaway email for subscriptions. Tools like Aura enable the use of email aliases to protect against scammers.
  3. Restrict Collaborative Access: Minimize the sharing of collaborative folders, albums, or playlists, as increased access points to your data heighten the risk of leaks or hacks.

By implementing these measures, you can bolster your online security and create a more user-friendly experience.

2. Use strong and unique passwords with 2FA

The utmost defense against identity theft and cyber threats often relies on robust passwords, acting as a primary line of protection.

Consider the wealth of personal information stored in your email account, including sensitive details like bank account information, home addresses, or even your Social Security number (SSN).

If you haven’t already implemented passwords or passcodes across all your devices, including guest accounts, it is crucial to do so promptly.

Here are steps to fortify your accounts with more secure passwords:

  1. Utilize a Secure Password Manager: Safeguard your passwords by storing them in a reliable password manager. Ensure that the passwords you use for your various online accounts are both strong and unique. Given the multitude of accounts one typically manages, a password manager provides a convenient and secure solution. Learn how to access your saved passwords and integrate them into a password manager for added security.
  2. Activate Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Enhance your security with the additional layer of two-factor authentication. This secondary measure can safeguard you even if your password has been compromised in a phishing scam. If you’ve ever entered a code received via text message, you’ve already experienced two-factor authentication.
  3. Implement Automatic Device Locking: Configure your devices to automatically lock when not in use. Even the most robust password can be vulnerable if your device doesn’t engage automatic locking. For devices employing swift biometric authentication such as fingerprint scanning or facial recognition, set the lock duration to “30 seconds” or “immediately” for optimal security.

3. Tighten privacy settings on your social media accounts

Enhancing online privacy doesn’t necessarily require deleting your social media accounts; a simple review of the privacy settings on your regularly used online accounts can suffice.

Companies profit significantly from gathering personal information, and default settings often prioritize data collection over data protection.

The most suitable settings for you depend on your preferences for sharing and safeguarding information. However, specific areas warrant careful attention:

  1. Location Tracking: Disable automatic geolocation data on your social media posts, photos, and comments to enhance privacy.
  2. Public Information: Deliberate on the level of visibility for different types of information, such as profile data, your content, and interactions with other content. Decide what should be public, hidden, or set somewhere in between.
  3. Likes, Shares, and Comments: While limiting personal sharing is common, remember that your “likes” and comments on other posts are often public. Profile pictures, names, and comments on others’ posts can appear in search results, even for supposedly “private” accounts. Be mindful of the visibility of these interactions.

4. Remove unused mobile apps and browser extensions

Applications and browser extensions have the flexibility to modify their security and privacy policies at any given time.

When not actively using a tool, it is advisable to delete or uninstall it.

For instance, consider, a free app designed to condense newsletters and subscription emails.

Following an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), it became evident that their revenue model involved scanning emails and selling the contents.

If you are uncertain about how an app generates revenue, user data could be the key factor.

Here are the recommended actions:

  1. Download from Reputable Stores: Only obtain apps and extensions from well-known app stores. Scammers and hackers often create free tools hiding malware or tracking software. To ensure safety, stick to official app stores known for approving legitimate apps.
  2. Exercise Caution with Every App: Your device should alert you about the permissions requested by an app or tool before installation. Scrutinize these requests thoroughly and ensure the tool is not seeking more permissions than necessary.
  3. Remove Browser Extensions: Eliminate extensions from your browser when not in use. Notably, eight popular Chrome and Firefox extensions were discovered to contain code that tracked all browser activity, including sensitive data like tax returns, medical information (posing a risk of medical identity theft), and confidential developments at companies such as Tesla and Apple.

5. Stop search engines from tracking you

A significant amount of personal data is amassed by your search engine, with Google being the search engine for 92% of users.

Notably, the operators of the two largest search engines, Google and Bing, are also behind the popular browsers Chrome and Edge, respectively, leading to extensive data tracking.

The initial step toward enhancing search engine privacy involves the removal of your data:

  • For Google: Access the My Activity dashboard and erase all data.
  • For Microsoft: Clear data separately from Microsoft Edge and Bing.
  • For Yahoo: Manage and delete data from the search history.

Regrettably, complete tracking elimination on Google is not possible.

An alternative approach is to transition to an online privacy-focused search engine like DuckDuckGo.

6. Use a VPN to hide your browsing history

Your internet service provider (ISP) and web browser, such as Google Chrome, Firefox, or Safari, have the potential to gather data on your online activities.

This data can be utilized by advertisers, sold to scammers, or shared with entities like the government or your workplace, even if you’re in private or incognito mode.

A virtual private network (VPN) adds an extra layer of security by encrypting your internet traffic, preventing anyone from monitoring your online actions, or tracking your browsing history.

Using a VPN is particularly beneficial in safeguarding against hackers when connecting to public Wi-Fi networks.

To protect your online privacy, consider the following measures:

  1. Employ a VPN Away from Home: Use a VPN, especially when not on your home network, to thwart potential data interception over public Wi-Fi networks, such as those in coffee shops or airports. Exercise extra caution when sharing sensitive information, like credit card or banking details, during online shopping.
  2. Utilize Safe Browsing Tools: Employ Safe Browsing tools to receive warnings about fake websites designed to pilfer personal information. Aura’s Safe Browsing tools can alert you when encountering lookalike or fraudulent websites.
  3. Safeguard Your Wi-Fi Password: Protect your Wi-Fi password, as your router manages sensitive information, including passwords and financial data. Sharing your Wi-Fi password with someone with malicious intent could expose your information to theft.
  4. Explore Privacy-Focused Browsers: Consider using a privacy-focused browser as an additional step toward ensuring online privacy. Options like Brave offer increased security. For the utmost privacy, Tor is an option that conceals your location and browsing history across multiple layers, although it may result in a slower browsing experience.

7. Don’t ignore software or operating system updates

Many privacy breaches often exploit well-known vulnerabilities that have already been addressed, rather than relying on newly discovered bugs.

These vulnerabilities are typically present in computers that have not yet installed the necessary fixes.

A report from Bitdefender in 2021 highlighted that unpatched vulnerabilities significantly contributed to the susceptibility of Windows systems to attacks.

The primary and essential measure to mitigate such risks is to configure your operating system for automatic updates.

Here’s a guide on enabling automatic updates for:

8. Use a Privacy Assistant to block ad and data tracking

A majority of the personal data gathered online is primarily intended for marketing purposes rather than scams or data breaches.

You can significantly reduce the impact of these data trackers with a few straightforward steps.

Initially, when prompted by pop-ups to share data, opt for the negative response. Whenever feasible, reject cookies on websites.

For users of iPhones or other Apple mobile devices, iOS versions 14.5 and above offer the option to deactivate cross-app tracking.

Furthermore, you can turn off ad customization across various applications you utilize, encompassing Google search, other Google services, Apple, Facebook ad settings, and third parties leveraging Facebook data, Twitter, Microsoft, and Amazon.

While numerous other websites employ tracking mechanisms, by disabling these features from major companies, you can effectively minimize the impact of the most significant culprits.

9. Use encryption to keep data from prying eyes

While you may believe that your computer data, texts, and emails are secure, the reality might be different.

Encryption serves as a protective measure by essentially “scrambling” your data unless a decryption key or password is provided.

This safeguards your information in scenarios where cybercriminals attempt to steal your hard drive, intercept your text messages, or deceive you into providing information on a fraudulent website.

Here are the recommended actions:

  1. Encrypt Your Computer Data: Ensure the encryption of data on your computer. Modern Apple and Android mobile devices come with default encryption. For Windows and Mac, you can configure encryption settings, rendering the data unintelligible to anyone without the password.
  2. Opt for Messaging Apps with End-to-End Encryption: Choose messaging apps that employ end-to-end encryption, such as WhatsApp, Telegram, or Signal. These options provide a higher level of security, though it’s worth noting that WhatsApp still has additional privacy concerns.
  3. Secure Data Before Selling or Recycling Devices: Before selling or recycling devices, ensure the complete erasure of data. Delete all information and restore devices to their factory settings to prevent unauthorized access when passing them on to others.

10. Revoke unnecessary third-party app connections

Numerous contemporary applications seek permission to link with other services for data sharing or collaborative functionality.

When you opt for actions like “sign in with Google/Facebook,” you grant the respective tool access to specific data associated with you on Google or Facebook.

To enhance both your online privacy and security, it is advisable to minimize the extent of third-party app connections you establish.

Here’s how to identify and manage third-party app connections:

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Apple (specifically, under “Sign in with Apple”)
  • Microsoft
  • Slack

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