These days, privacy is a topic that's on just about everyone's radar. Constant data breaches and privacy violations, new legislation and regulations, social media scandal after social media scandal. You'd honestly be hard pressed to find a news day where there wasn't some major scoop about digital privacy (or the lack thereof). Amidst all this brouhaha, it's easy to throw up your hands and leave your own privacy to chance. But you shouldn't. It takes a bit of legwork, but protecting your data online actually isn't as complex as you'd think.
Re-Examine How You Use Social Media
Recently, Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle fired one of her aides in light of an inflammatory Facebook post. This is hardly unprecedented. The news is rife with stories of people either being denied employment or let go from their jobs because of what they shared over social media.
A lot of us seem to forget that sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are public forums. What you say, do, and share on them can and will come back to haunt you. How you conduct yourself on social media is akin to how you conduct yourself in public - if it's something you wouldn't say or do in broad daylight, keep it off social.
Moreover, social networks are businesses first and services second. Much has already been written about the extent to which social media organizations collect, use, and sell our data. It's a process so extensive that even the companies themselves can't keep track of everything. Never mind the fact that, as demonstrated by Netflix thriller You, it's terrifyingly easy to track someone down based solely on what they post online.
While the surest way to protect yourself is to delete all your social accounts, we both know that's probably never going to happen. Instead, I'm going to recommend a few ways to use social media a bit more intelligently. To that end, aside from simply being careful about what you say and do, there are a few extra steps you can take.
- Go through your profile, and either delete all but the most basic information or set it to 'friends only' or 'only me.'
- Under Privacy Settings and Tools:
- Limit who can see your future posts to either all friends or a few specific people. Do the same for past posts.
- Enable Timeline Review in the Activity Log.
- Limit who can send you friend requests, see your friend list, and look you up on Facebook. -Disallow search engines from indexing your profile.
- Under Security and Login:
- Review your list of authorized devices.
- Turn on two-factor authentication.
- Review the apps and websites that have access to your data.
- Consider setting your profile to Protected. This will disallow any but approved followers from seeing and interacting with your tweets.
- Turn off location tagging.
- Unlink Twitter from your other social accounts.
- Consider making your Instagram account private.
- Turn off location tagging.
- Avoid a username that contains identifying information about you.
- Avoid using a profile photo that shows your face.
Note that these are just recommendations - take them or leave them.
Take Control Of Your Apps
It's no great secret that smartphone apps can be a privacy nightmare. The poorly-coded ones have a tendency to leak data like sieves, while others greedily siphon up as much information as possible. If you want to stay private, it's important that you stay on top of the software you use.
Pay attention to the permission an app requires before you install it, and disable as many as possible. You can always re-enable them if you need access to a particular feature. Be sure to read the reviews and check online before installing software to see if the developer's got a bad rep.
If you're on a BlackBerry Android device, this whole process becomes a lot easier thanks to the DTEK app. Among other things, it provides you with a complete overview of how each app accesses your data and utilizes various device features. Use it in conjunction with your own good judgment.
While we're on the topic of smartphone privacy, let's talk about public WiFi connections. To be blunt, avoid these like the plague unless you're using a VPN service. Anyone could be listening in on that traffic. If you absolutely have to connect to the web over a public WiFi connection - and you don't have a VPN handy - just avoid transmitting anything private or sensitive.
Double-Check The TOS
Just about every website and service out there has us scroll through a terms & conditions document before signing up. Most of us probably never read them. They usually aren't made to be understandable to laypeople, anyway - they're pretty much written for and by lawyers.
Yet understanding these often arcane documents is incredibly important. In addition to establishing what constitutes an acceptable use of a platform, they also go into detail about how and why that platform uses your data. Now, as a caveat, most of us don't have the time to read through twenty different TOS contracts.
We don't have to. That link goes to one of my favorite sites of all time. Called Terms of Services; Didn't Read, it's exactly what you'd expect - a repository that outlines the privacy beats of just about every major TOS document on the web. It even assigns each site a grade based on how extensively it tracks, collects, and leverages user data.
Bust Out A Password Manager
I wager most of us reuse passwords way more often than we should. That's kind of to be expected, honestly. With the number of different apps, platforms, and services we're all subscribed to these days, remembering unique login data for every single one is next to impossible.
A password manager like Password Keeper can help with that. It stores all your login data in a secure vault protected by a single master code - that's the only one you need to remember. It also includes a secure browser, a password generator, and a password strength checker.
Don't Part With Personal Information
Last but certainly not least, just as you should be careful what you share on social media, you should be cognizant of how you share your personal information in your day-to-day. If you're ever contacted by someone asking for data with the claim that they're from a business or government agency you work with, be on your guard. There's a very good chance they're trying to scam you - always contact the organization through official channels on your own before volunteering anything.
The idea that digital privacy is dead isn't entirely accurate. While being a part of modern-day society means surrendering at least some information to tech companies, you actually have a lot more control over how that data is accessed and used than you realize. The first step is simply being aware of that.
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