Ever notice that after searching for something online, you start to get ads that are relative to those search terms? It’s no coincidence. From your searches to your activity on social media, nothing is really private; companies are keeping track of who you are to try to sell you their products. The more we choose to trade our online privacy for convenience, the less privacy we really have.
You might be ok with some of these tradeoffs, but there are some ways that you can at least manage the amount of information about you that is easy to see on the Internet. As recent events with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have reminded us, we aren’t don’t have as much control over our data as we might think. Keep these tips in mind when trying to take control of some of your online privacy.
- Use a Password or Passcode: When you think about how much information your computers and cell phones have, it makes sense to try to do whatever you can to keep that out of the hands of others. Obviously you hope that you can keep these devices from criminals, but as an added level of protection, a simple password or passcode can help you secure your information. Don’t use obvious passwords that include names/ special dates in your life as they are easier to figure out. A random strings of letters, numbers and characters is your safest option. If you have trouble remembering these passwords, find a secure password management service.
- Review Privacy Settings: Review the privacy settings of any online accounts you have. This can feel tedious but try to remember to check the policies of each company regularly. Social media accounts especially change their privacy settings frequently, and you want to make sure you are keeping your accounts as secure as you can. Both Facebook and Twitter have developed extensive resources to help you understand your privacy settings and what they mean, but remember, these do change over time. It’s important to do a check in every couple of months to make sure nothing has changed. Also remember that when you give Facebook “apps” (like those goofy quizzes you see everywhere) permission to run, they get information from your account. This can also be true when you use Facebook to log-in quicker on other sites. Reading the terms and conditions you must agree to if you are trying to gain access to online apps/sites is very important. It can be boring and tedious, but if you want to protect the information you’re sharing, it’s essential!
- Choose who you connect with: It’s a good idea to “clean out” the Facebook friend list every so often if you are concerned about your online privacy. As the Cambridge Analytica incident has taught us, our online privacy isn’t just about our person settings and practices, but it’s also about the settings and practices of people who you are connected with online. The data that Cambridge Analytica gathered was not just from people who gave them permissions through their apps, but also the friends of people who did so. It’s also important to pay attention to who can follow you on accounts like Twitter or Instagram where you can choose whether to have a public or private account. The more control you have over who sees what you post, the more privacy you have. You don’t have to grant access to everyone who requests it when you have a private account, either.
- Assume nothing online is fully private: A good rule of thumb is to assume that anything you post online could be found by someone else. Consider the appropriateness of what you share online. Would you be ashamed if a potential boss saw a prospective post? Would a potential criminal be able to gather a dangerous amount of information about your life from it? Will you regret what you said a month from now? What about a year? These are important factors to consider. Don’t forget these these questions when your friends tag you in posts or photos, as well.
- Test it out: Try searching for your name in popular search engines when you aren’t logged into any of your online accounts. What can you see? This allows you to see what a random person can stumble across online associated with your name and see some of the basic vulnerabilities in your online privacy.
The American Library Association has named this week Choose Privacy Week. They are sharing a lot of thought provoking information about what it means to truly Choose Privacy in the increasingly social online sphere.