In the olden days, having privacy meant closing the blinds or locking a diary. Nowadays with nearly our entire lives online, it’s so much more complicated. Here are a few essential tips to keep you and your personal data protected.
Protecting Your Cellphone
If you’re like half of all Americans, you probably own a cellphone – in fact, it’s highly likely you are reading this on one right now, perhaps sitting at a café and connected to Wi-Fi.
And if you’re like most cellphone owners, you are leaving yourself potentially vulnerable to thieves and/or hackers. The most basic protection is a password that locks the screen when not in use, yet according to Consumer Reports, 63% of users don’t have any kind of screen lock at all.
Solution: In your preferences panel, set up a password protection. Depending on your phone, you will be able to create a simple 4-digit pin or something more complex, which is more secure (but may be harder to remember). Refer to your manual or look up your phone online for more details.
Along with this type of protection, you should also make sure you have some kind of tracking device that can locate a lost or stolen phone and/or disable it. Apple makes it easy with Find My iPhone and Android phones have Find My Droid. Many of the newer phones already include these features but it’s up to you to activate them – do it today!
Then of course, there are the apps on the phone itself, which can compromise your security and privacy in more subtle ways, like giving information to advertisers or third parties who can essentially do whatever they want with the information.
Solution: Install Clueful, a free app for IOS and Android that scans the apps on your phone and lets you know what you are sharing with whom or if there is any malware installed. You delete or disable based on their ratings.
Other privacy strategies include disabling automatic Wi-Fi connections and making sure if you are shopping with your phone that the browser has an https (not just http) secure connection. More tips can be found here.
Facebook Privacy Settings
Facebook is a social hub for more than a billion people and can bring joy, but can also cause tears and fear for many people. That’s why it’s important you take control of not only what you post, but also what others can see or post about you.
First, and perhaps most important, never give your password to anyone – even a prospective employer. Facebook has taken a stance against this intrusion by making it a violation of their terms for anyone to solicit a password.
In terms of visibility, there are levels of control. For example, anyone can see your profile picture, so if you want more privacy, change it to an image that is not your face.
Facebook does have a Privacy Checkup feature that goes through steps ensure basic privacy, which is located in the upper right of your Facebook page (it has a little lock as an icon).
First, they suggest you control who can see what you post. The default is Public, but you can switch it to Friends or even Only Me. Next, they show you the apps you’ve installed and allow you to control who sees what these apps post in a similar fashion. Finally, it shows you who can see what of your profile information. It’s best to keep your most personal information set to Friends or Only Me. While it’s nice to receive Happy Birthday messages, you should keep the year you were born private as identity thieves can use it.
Facebook also lets you control who can contact you and give you tools to block annoying “friends”. You can also control who can post on your wall or tag you in a photo. Visit your account settings for more info.
But if you’ve decided you need to “clean up your act” (i.e. get rid of embarrassing photos or posts from your past) you may want to use an app like SimpleWash which can scour your feed for “undesirable content” and let you delete or modify visibility of the offending post.
Note: You cannot protect your privacy on Facebook by posting a legal notice on your page.
Web Browsing and Email
Surfing the web and reading email on your home computer are also vulnerable to spies, thieves, hackers, or trackers. Here are some tips to thwart them:
First, you could “surf incognito” using your existing browser. For example, Chrome has a New Incognito Window command that you can open which won’t save your history, cookies, or passwords. You can also go into your browser settings to delete history and/or disable cookies; however, many of your favorite websites may not operate the way you like them to with the cookie feature disabled.
You can also use a proxy server, which acts to disguise your computer’s IP address (your IP basically identifies your location and what you search for), which could in theory be traced back to you. If you would like to be more anonymous with your online activity, visit proxy.org for a list of sites that can protect you from unwanted surveillance.
If you want to go to the highest level of privacy available for online surfing, you could download Tor, a free open-source Internet tool that provides anonymity for web surfing, instant messaging, and more.
If you’d like to keep your email correspondence totally secure and private, setting up a private cloud email server (like a certain Presidential candidate did) is probably too difficult. Installing PGP (short for Pretty Good Privacy) on your own computer is a little easier, but also requires several steps, which are listed here.
Or, you can sign up for ProtonMail, a company that boasts NSA-proof email servers, which are located in Switzerland. Not surprisingly, there is a waitlist for an account, but you can request an invite here.
Digital privacy, as you can see, is a very complex issue with many different levels of security. The most important thing is to be aware: know what you want to share, what you want to keep private, and research the steps you need to take to protect yourself. We hope this helps move you in the right direction.
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