Every day, companies like Google, Facebook, and Whatsapp are learning more about you than your mother likely knows.
The Internet makes it easy for us to share information with websites, companies, and friends. For example, when you use Facebook or Twitter, your friends can see the posts you make — and so can anyone else who finds them online.
And that’s just the beginning. Aside from legitimate companies, cybercriminals will also try to obtain, sell, or misuse your information.
Your online privacy is important, and you should take steps to protect it.
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1. VPNs Help You Stay Safe and Anonymous
A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a great place to start if you want to protect your online privacy. These convenient services are similar to multitools regarding digital security and privacy. There are many compelling reasons to use a VPN.
A VPN protects your privacy by encrypting all your traffic and hiding it from third parties who want to snoop on your activity. Nobody can access your data without your permission, regardless of identity, including ISPs, advertisers, and even governments.
VPNs also allow you to connect to the internet through a server located somewhere else in the world. This feature can be helpful if you want to access geo-restricted content like Netflix, Hulu, or even a site your government censors.
Aside from data encryption, many VPNs come with a built-in ad, cookie, and tracker blocking feature. That means they will have a more challenging time grabbing your data regardless of what websites you visit. It also helps make things harder for advertisers to track you across the web.
One important point to note is that not all VPNs are equal. Always sign up with a reputable VPN service provider – my recommendations include:
NordVPN is one of the most respected brands in the VPN industry. It offers an explicit no-logging policy and uses various encryption protocols to ensure user data remains private and secure. The company operates from Panama, which is not a member of the 5 / 9 / 14 Eyes surveillance alliances.
Surfshark is a VPN service that has been around for several years. It provides customers with high-speed servers designed to help protect user privacy. Surfshark uses AES-256 encryption protocols to protect your data from hackers or third parties who try to access it without your consent.
2. Review App and Device Privacy Settings
Privacy settings on your apps and devices help you control the information they can access and what they can do with it. The problem is that many service providers will try to get away with as many permissions as possible.
One good example is Facebook. The company often makes changes to its settings and interface. Sometimes, it toggles permissions to a “default” state without you being aware. Imagine the hundreds of apps or devices we use, which can be a significant problem.
Always remember to review your privacy settings in your apps and devices. Some of the basic settings to check include;
- Make sure you aren’t sharing information with an unintended audience
- Turn off location tracking unless it’s necessary for some services
- Disallow access to your camera and microphone when not in use
3. Data Removal Services Like Incogni
Most of us have been using the Internet for many years. Newbies quickly sign up for multiple accounts on social media, webmail, or delivery services. It’s likely that regardless of how “new” you are, your data is already in the hands of numerous companies.
The thing to note is that data most often moves between a relatively minor number of data brokers. These are companies that make a living from collating and selling the information. And the companies are relatively unknown.
Take, for example, Acxiom LLC. This American company alone holds the data of over 2.5 billion consumers.
Because of the challenge in dealing with this murky network of data brokers, most of us could do with some help. And that’s where a service like Incogni comes in handy.
Incogni is a single-purpose service that aims to remove your data from the hands of as many data brokers as possible. Incogni will contact each data broker and request they remove your data from holding. Regular reports keep you updated on which data brokers have complied.
It’s convenient and costs a pittance each month.
Incogni currently covers 146 data brokers and works in the US, Canada, UK, EU, and Switzerland. They leverage privacy regulations that include CCPA, PIPEDA, and GDPR. Why waste years trying to remove your data when Incogni does it automatically on your behalf?
4. Browser Plug-ins Can Prevent Tracking.
A browser plugin can help stop trackers and cookies for those who don't want a VPN. These are available for all major browsers and are often free to download. Most of them have similar features, but some may be more effective than others at blocking specific trackers or ads. Browser plug-ins can also block cookies and flash, which can help protect your data even if you don't change browser settings. However, while these plugins are handy, they may not block everything.
It’s also worth noting that browser plugins can come from a broad range of developers. That means a large discrepancy in effectiveness, price, and support.
Some recommended browser privacy plugins include;
Supported Browsers: Firefox, Firefox Android, Edge, and Opera
Privacy Badger is a browser add-on that stops third-party trackers. It works by analyzing pages on the web and checking them against a list of known trackers. If it finds a tracker on a page, it blocks that tracker from loading any content or resources from its domains.
Malwarebytes Browser Guard
Supported Browsers: Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari
Malwarebytes Browser Guard is a plugin for the Malwarebytes Antivirus software that protects your browser from malicious websites. It blocks access to sites that host malware or other undesirable content. It also blocks access to suspicious or untrustworthy sites you may want to visit.
Supported Browsers: Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera, and Safari
Ghostery lets you see the trackers on any web page and control which ones you want to allow to collect information about your browsing activity. It also allows you to block scripts from loading on a specific domain. These features can help prevent information leakage or other unwanted behavior when viewing a web page.
5. Password Managers Offer Greater Security Control
Using the same password for all your accounts is very easy. After all, it's easier to remember one password than five hundred. However, the reality is that recycling a password is a terrible idea. If one account gets hacked, the hacker gains access to all other accounts that share that same password.
You should use a separate strong (but unique) password for each account to avoid this problem. Strong passwords mean those that are at least eight characters long, including upper and lowercase letters, digits, and special symbols (like @, $, or %).
The easiest way to handle things is to use a password manager. Ideally, find one that you can use on multiple platforms or devices like mobile, tablet, and desktop. These apps can help you create strong passwords, store them, and automatically fill the information in when you need to log in to an account.
Below are some best password managers you can try.
NordPass is a powerful and easy-to-use password manager that helps you to manage your passwords and other sensitive information safely and securely. All data is encrypted using robust encryption algorithms. Best of all, you can get it as a bundle with NorVPN.
1Password is great for anyone who wants to keep their account passwords safe. It's perfect for those who use multiple devices, including desktops and laptops. It can sync with those other devices so you can have the same logins in all of them. It also has an app for managing passwords on your mobile device or tablet.
LastPass is a password manager with a web form filler, secure digital vault, and password generator. The service is available for multiple platforms, including desktop, mobile and browser extensions. You can share passwords, track them, or even work with One Time Passwords.
6. Remove Unnecessary Apps
Apps are one of the biggest reasons people love using smartphones, but they are also a significant source of privacy leaks. Even if you aren’t using them, the time spent monitoring settings could be more than the apps are worth – especially if you don’t need some of them.
Removing unused apps can reduce the risk of privacy leaks and make it easier to manage privacy settings for essential apps. Doing so also offers several other benefits, including saving storage space, reducing battery usage, and getting fewer annoying notification messages.
7. Check for Data Leaks on HaveIBeenPwned
HaveIBeenPwned is a website that lets you check if your credentials have been leaked and are floating somewhere in cyberspace. You can check for leaked data via your email address or name. You can also check if a specific password is compromised, but this isn’t generally a good idea.
While the service doesn’t help you safeguard your private information, you can use it as a tool. Knowing a password is no longer secure, you can quickly change it on your services. Again, remember that it’s best to use strong passwords to safeguard your privacy and data.
The rapid pace of technological advancement has given us more ways to communicate, engage and connect — but also more ways to be surveilled and tracked. Since governments, companies, and hackers want our data, protecting it is left in our hands.
As we navigate this new online landscape, we must understand how our personal data is collected and used. And it's equally vital that we protect ourselves against illegal or unethical uses of our data by third parties.