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Who’s Watching Me? Tips to Protect Your Privacy in the Digital World

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Over the past couple years we’ve seen digital privacy take the world by storm. Recent revelations about government snooping, data breaches releasing personal information, mobile apps tracking your every move, social media sites exposing your personal life for their gain, etc. shows why digital privacy has become such a huge concern for anyone utilizing the internet today.

With these technologies grafted into our everyday lives, we need to understand the difference between privacy and secrecy before we dig any deeper. Privacy is what we choose to share with other people, or technology for that matter, while secrecy is protecting something from ever being seen. With this in mind let’s look at a few options we have to keep our digital persona private in a very public internet.

Secure your connection

Protecting your privacy is a multi-layered approach, but securing your connection to the internet is where you need to start. By logging into insecure public networks, such as at cafes, airports etc. you’re completely exposed to the risks of cyber snooping. Use VPN services or anonymizers, such as Tor, that can provide reasonably private connection to the internet even in public places. This doesn’t eliminate the risk entirely, but it does help lower the threats of malicious snooping.

Monitor your settings

Once you have a secure and private connection to the internet, you still need to tighten up the privacy settings of the services and applications you’re using. In all likelihood many of these applications have loose privacy restrictions set on purpose to enable to enable people to collaborate freely. Often popular search engines and social media sites allow you to tighten your privacy restrictions, but then issue updates that reverse the changes you’ve applied. So you need to check and verify privacy settings very regularly to make sure they’re set the way you assumed they were. Always read the privacy policy of a website that has your personal data on it. These are subject to change and leave your personal information at risk.

Be careful!

Be careful about giving sensitive data to websites or applications that don’t really need them. Many sites these days ask for the world, but often times you don’t actually need to give them all your private data just to create an account with them. They want this data in order to get a better idea of your demographics so that they can market to you. Moreover they are likely selling this data too. Protect your sensitive data, birth date, email address, social security, etc., if you can and be very careful what you give out over the internet.

Use tools

There are many tools which can be downloaded that force privacy within your browsers, computers and mobile devices at no cost.  A few of the tools that allow for a more private browsing experience are:

  • Ghostery – This pluggin allows you to view the companies that are tracking you while visiting a website. Many sites pull information from you and then sell it to other providers.
  • No Script – This is a pluggin that blocks scripts that run in your browser. Many of these scripts can pull private information without asking.
  • HTTPS Everywhere – This tool that forces the browser to attempt an HTTPS connection to a site first, if it’s available. This will force your data over a secure connection, instead of passing data in clear test using HTTP.
  • SelecetiveCookieDelete – This tool will remove certain cookies, or all of them, after a browser is closed out. Many sites track your activity via cookies and determine your habits on the internet and try to correlate your activity. This information is then used to market to you based on your data.
  • Tor – This tool allows you to force internet traffic through multiple systems – considered onion routing – in order to enable you to anonymize your internet browsing. This tool is available as a browser pluggin, application or bootable USB/CD install named Tails.
  • Text Secure – This app uses public/private keys on the users’ mobile phone to encrypt texts in transit and in storage.
  • Red Phone – This app allows two parties to make encrypted calls on a mobile phone after they input their public keys.
  • Mailvelope – This is a browser pluggin for webmail that encrypts mail using GPG and allows you to send it to a user whose public key you already have imported. Email clients such as Yahoo, Gmail and Microsoft will not be able to read these emails.

Be immobile

In the age of mobile devices there are so many areas where your privacy can be taken advantage – it’s alarming. Your mobile device collects data about your contacts, texts, emails, phone calls and most disturbingly, your location. Having geolocation services enabled on your phone is very convenient, but it’s also giving away your location to multiple applications and services without your knowledge. Even if you’re not doing anything illegal, you should still be concerned about disclosing your every move to systems that are going to correlate it and with your habits to market to you.

Encrypt

In order to preventing access to your personal data, another way to protect your data is by encrypting it. Data can be encrypted when in motion and when at rest.

  • If possible, always connect to websites through SSL, using tools that force you into it. There are many times that websites offer a secure version of their sites (HTTP), but don’t put you there by default. There are tools that can force your browser try an HTTPS secured connection first before reverting to the default of the insecure HTTP page if it’s not available.
  • Use encryption whenever you send private information via email, or via cloud services. One easy way to do this is by using a public key encryption.
  • Always encrypt your mobile devices, workstations and laptops.

These are just a few steps you can take to secure your privacy while using the internet and technology. With so much of our personal data being sent across the internet, or stored on a device of some sorts, r in the cloud, it’s critical that you take privacy of this data seriously – even if you’re not a celebrity. We wouldn’t leave our homes unlocked and allow anyone to just wander through, so why would we allow this over the internet? Let’s be both safe and smart about how we interface with technology these days.

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