How to Protect Your Online Privacy in 2021
During this pandemic, we’ve turned to video-conferencing tools and social media to keep in touch with family and to facilitate working from home. In doing so, we have exposed our data to even more threats, setting ourselves up for more extensive tracking, monitoring, and analysis.
It might be tempting to forget the warnings that told us, “Data is the new gold”, but with reporters still emphasizing that he who owns data owns the future, maintaining some level of online privacy is a must.
In this article, we’re going to give you some ideas and tips about how to best protect your privacy online and retain control over your financial and personal information.
Your Online Privacy in 2021 Is At A Greater Risk Than Ever
While it’s convenient to use your Facebook profile to create other online accounts, such behavior is doing little for your online privacy. It’s tantamount to running through the streets naked and hoping no one notices the enormous tattoo on your butt.
You may think you’re being cautious but every time you reuse your favorite cat’s name as your password, you’re basically handing over your data to the nearest hacker or tracker.
You may think you’re being security-conscious, using Incognito Mode and updating your antivirus regularly, but then off you go and share a photograph of your credit card on Facebook.
11 Simple Steps to Protect Your Privacy Online
We recommend that you take the following steps in order to protect your online privacy and tie up all the loose ends which might be leaving you vulnerable to identity theft, hacks, viruses, and more.
#1. Use a Password Manager to Protect Yourself
The average person has 70-80 passwords to remember. As a result, many of us end up reusing the same old passwords or relying on passwords that are easy to remember, but equally easy to guess.
A password manager gives you a safe place to store your passwords while monitoring them weakness and repetition and helping you create new, strong passwords. Many password managers are free, up to a point at least.
Take Dashlane, for example, which lets free users create and store up to 50 passwords, and save payment details and identification documents. It has a solid password generator and lets you use two-factor authentication to boost security even further.
If you upgrade to Dashlane’s paid plan, you’ll be able to sync passwords across multiple devices and monitor the Dark Web for any leaked data.
#2. Use a VPN to Stay Safe on Public Networks
Public Wi-Fi networks are the virtual equivalent of the dodgy neighborhood, where cybercriminals, hackers, and other nefarious characters are loitering on every corner. Using a public Wi-Fi connection exposes you to a variety of cyber threats, the most prevalent being Man-in-the-Middle attacks, in which your data is intercepted before it reaches the connection point.
An unsecured public Wi-Fi connection could still redirect you to a malicious website. Even if you only visit secure HTTPS sites, some of the apps on your cell phone could be connecting to HTTP sites without you knowing it. If you’ve not installed the latest security patches for your operating system, your device could come under attack.
One of the best VPNs can keep these dangers at bay. We recommend:
#3. Use a Private Browsing Mode when Surfing the Web
While a private browsing session doesn’t offer the same level of security as a VPN, it does mean your browsing history won’t be saved and any cookies generated during the session, deleted.
Private browsing mode is “largely ineffective at blocking third-party monitoring, meaning that your internet service provider can still track your online activities”. It will, however, stop anyone else using that device from finding out where you’ve been or accessing sensitive information, like your online banking password.
It’s a step in the right direction but, if you want to protect your privacy online more effectively, you could try using an anonymous browser like Tor, or let a VPN shroud you in a cloak of anonymity.
#4. Stop Adware by Using an Ad Blocker
Adware was sent to try us. It may be designed to gather information so we only see relevant adverts in our social media feeds, but it’s gone way beyond the call of duty.
Some adware is so persistent, it will follow you through cyberspace, tracking your digital footprint and gathering up crumbs of information about your location. Once it’s finished, it will inundate you with adverts that interrupt your browsing experience, devour your mobile data, and eat away at your device’s battery life.
Standalone adblockers like AdBlock Plus and uBlock Origin, are available as free browser extensions and some antivirus software and VPN providers bundle ad blockers into their suite of cybersecurity tools.
Google Chrome now has anti-ad blocking apps available that you can use in conjunction with your ad-blocking software to fly under the radar – or so they say. The efficacy of these is, as yet, unproven so choosing a reputable ad blocker is probably still the best way of protecting your privacy online.
You may have, inadvertently, given all sorts of apps and websites permission to interact with Facebook using your profile. You can, if you have a morning to spare, use Facebook’s Off-Facebook Activity tool to track them down and close them down but, I warn you, it’s not easy but it is worth it.
It’s advisable to tweak a few settings to improve your online privacy. These include:
- Not using location data when posting
- Preventing users from tagging you in photos
- Hiding your email address and phone number
- Turning off personalization and data
- Not giving Twitter permission to access your address book
#6. Protect Your Phone’s Online Privacy
Most of us are vigilant about looking after our phones on the outside, being careful not to drop or lose them, but when it comes to the virtual world, we tend to neglect them and leave their online privacy wanting.
There are a few steps you can take to boost your phone’s online privacy. These include:
- Activating two-factor authentication
- Using a screen lock
- Turning off your location, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth whenever they’re not in use
- Only installing apps from reputable sources
- Not jailbreaking your iPhone
- Avoiding using USB chargers in airports and other public places
- Keeping your apps updated
- Managing your app permission
- Using one of the best antivirus apps for mobile devices
We will explore some of these steps in more detail as they can improve your online privacy significantly, both on your smartphone and other devices.
#7. Turn off your Location
Turning your location on your cellphone is understandable if you’re looking for a specific address or want to find the nearest coffee shop. Once you’ve found what you were looking for, however, you should turn your location off again.
Leaving it open could mean giving unknown companies and peeping Toms more insights into your life that you’d give your best friend. Your location history could provide “evidence of drug addiction” or reveal “records of visits to psychological facilities”.
Turn your location off or use a VPN to hide it behind a fake IP address. That you’ll both protect your privacy online and opt-out of “the greatest trick technology companies ever played” – “persuading society to surveil itself”.
#8. Limit your applications’ access to personal data and settings
Before you agree to an app collecting data or monitoring your whereabouts, think about whether it really needs that information to operate – and whether you want to share it.
Some apps are rather more cagey. The Washington Post ran an article last year pointing out that, on the average iPhone, apps are using trackers to collect and share around 1.5GB of data over 30 days.
While you can stop them to some degree by limiting their access, a more effective solution is to install a different type of app altogether – one that will stop trackers instead of activating them.
Apps like Disconnect and Jumbo will stop trackers… in their tracks! Disconnect has a free basic version available for macOS and iOS devices, while Jumbo is compatible with both Andoird and iPhones but is only available on subscription.
#9. Encrypt your Emails
Almost all popular messaging apps use encryption, and yet few of us consider seeking out an encrypted email service. Instead, we seem content to deal with the spam and the phishing attacks, relying on our wits and good sense to filter out the dangers.
Depending on who your email service provider is, you should be able to encrypt emails yourself. To achieve this, however, both you and your recipient need to enable S/MIME email encryption settings, so it’s not viable in every instance.
Alternatively, you could use a third-party encryption tool to do the job for you. For instance, Mailvelope has a browser extension that’s compatible with Firefox, Chrome, and Safari. This will give you end-to-end encryption on Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo Mail. It’s simple, open-source, and free.
If you don’t want to change your email service provider or your email address, you won’t want to switch to an encrypted email service. Instead, you’re just going to have to be more vigilant and stay on the look-out for email scams, phishing attacks, and other related threats.
Phishing is a virulent strain of social engineering and phishing emails usually try to entice the recipient into clicking on a link or opening an attachment. The best way to stop them is by, quite simply, not clicking on or opening anything that is not from a reliable source.
There are some other types of phishing to look out for which are less easy to spot. For example, spear phishing is when you receive mail from a source posing as an institution that is known to be trustworthy (a health clinic, a bank, or even the government), prompting you to reveal personal information. Whaling is targetted at big-time CEOs and high profile business people, coaxing them to transfer funds or reveal top-secret business information.
Even though these emails look legitimate at first glance, you need to ensure that they are, in fact, who they say they are. You should never reveal personal information via email unless you are absolutely sure who you are sending it to.
While some antivirus packages will guard against phishing attacks, the most reliable way of protecting your online privacy in this instance, is by constant vigilance and awareness.
#11. Manage your smart devices
Having your fridge chatting away to your home thermostat is great if you want to control temperatures, but terrible if you want to control your data flow. If you put all your devices onto the same network, it’s the virtual equivalent of putting all your eggs into one basket.
As the FBI warned suggests, “your fridge and your laptop should not be on the same network”, that way, if someone hacks your fridge, they won’t immediately gain access to your laptop as well. You could also add a VPN to your router and encrypt all the data that’s flowing through your IoT devices.
Because of the range and diversity of IoT devices, managing your smart home is a little more complicated than some of the other online privacy tips discussed above. You can find out more by reading this article on how to secure IoT devices and keep your smart home as safe as houses.
Many people believe online privacy is impossible, but, at Secure Thoughts, we reject such cynicism and valiantly keep trying our best to protect our online privacy.
Whether it’s using a password manager, installing the best antivirus software, or finding a no-logging VPN, there are plenty of tools out there to help you browse anonymously and keep trackers and hackers at bay.
If you’re not keen on cybersecurity tools, then you can improve your level of online privacy simply by changing your behavior and increasing your awareness.
Whatever approach you decide to take to protect your privacy online, keep believing that, not only is this possible, but its also your right, just as you have the right to sit on your sofa without your phone telling the world where you are and your smart surveillance camera broadcasting images to prove it.