Managing your privacy online and protecting your personal data is a minefield for even experienced tech users.
It involves battling powerful adversaries – tech companies that mine your data while you use their products.
Users face difficulties at almost every turn when it comes to their digital privacy.
For example, privacy policies are purposely impractical. The best evidence of this is Kindle’s policy which takes about nine hours to read.
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The Norwegian Consumer Council published a study last year on how companies use intentionally confusing layout and misrepresentation of benefits to push consumers into sharing data.
This was followed by a survey by the think tank Centre for International Governance Innovation which showed 52 per cent of users were more concerned about their online privacy compared to a year ago.
The easy option is to pretend everything is okay and just do nothing, however, with a bit of effort you can protect yourself from most predatory behaviour.
The first thing to do is to start using the incognito mode on your web browser.
Each browser has the feature though each has a different name – Chrome (Incognito), Edge (InPrivate), Safari (Private) and Firefox (Private Browsing).
Using this mode will erase your browsing and search history and delete any cookies (small files which are stored on your computer and used by websites to do things like target ads at you).
However, incognito mode does have its limitations. Your internet provider can still see what you’re looking at online and if you have logged into a website such as Facebook, it’ll still recognise and track you if you are in private mode.
ADJUST YOUR SETTINGS
Tech companies argue that users have control over their privacy settings on devices and websites.
The problem is that the default privacy settings are minimal, which means you have to go through each site and gadget individually to protect yourself.
For your smartphone, start by turning off location services and then go through each app and check what permissions are enabled. Do you really need your apps to have access to your phone’s microphone?
You’ll then need to work your way through your web browser and any software or apps you use before scouring through any social media or website accounts you have.
Each website you log into increases your chance of a privacy breach so go regularly review what services you are using and delete the ones you don’t use anymore.
Every account you have puts some of your data on someone else’s servers which means it is vulnerable to being hacked.
Also, reviewing your accounts is important as even if you trust the owners now, they may sell or change to something you don’t trust.
Make sure you have a strong unique password for accounts containing sensitive information.
Another good tip is to never use your Facebook or Google account to log into websites. Some of the largest privacy breaches have involved third-party apps that have accessed information from Facebook profiles.
One of the best ways to protect your privacy is to not put any information about yourself on the web.
That means never posting personal details or photos about yourself online, including on social media.
Everything you post on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram belongs to that company and they can keep it forever and use it how they like.
Also, never publish photos of others without their permission – this includes your children – or images of things like airline tickets or other personal documents.
There are a few other things you can do to protect your privacy.
First, do some research before buying any device that connects to the internet or downloading an app and see if any articles have identified security or privacy issues.
Next, always keep your software updated as most companies will release updates when they patch security vulnerabilities.
Also, be wary of using public wi-fi, as being on someone else’s open network is just too big a risk. Ideally, you should use a virtual private network but if that’s too much work, ignore the temptation of free data and just use your smartphone and cell connection.
Finally, consider creating a second “throwaway” email address that you can use to sign up to websites or apps. This means you won’t get inundated with marketing emails and your main account will be protected if there’s any privacy breach.
There are some companies that are acting responsibly. For example, Lego’s website, which connects children through games, has no third-party cookies or social media connections.
Hopefully, this will be more common as awareness increases and the bad privacy practices of tech companies become more well known.
Also, events such as Data Privacy Day, which was held in January, are helping to promote privacy and data protection best practices.
The only way to completely protect your digital privacy and personal data is to not go online. That’s not practical in today’s world so your best approach is to become informed and take action.