Online Privacy – Where To Start When You Want to Take Back Control of Your Personal Data

–– 3 Nov 2020

Photo by Dan Nelson on Unsplash

How do you feel about your online privacy—really? If you’re worried, you’re in the majority: 79% of us are concerned about our personal information in the hands of businesses and the government. 

But the moment you try to wrestle back a little control over your data, it feels overwhelming. Will you still have access to the technology and apps you love? What are you giving up? Do you have any real control over this information, anyway?

By understanding data-sharing and following a few easy steps, you can take back your power—and your personal data.

Oversharing is bad for your online privacy

Privacy seems like a far-off dream in the Age of the iPhone. Everything from social networks to search engines are gathering your information and exchanging it like currency. 

This personal data includes any snippet of information that can be tied back to you. We’re not only talking about your name or birthday, but also your address, search history . . . even your medical prescriptions.   

You’re sharing this information whether you know it or not, in all sorts of ways, such as:

  • Rewards apps
  • Loyalty cards
  • Social media quizzes
  • Search engine queries
  • Siri or Alexa questions

We share our data to make our lives easier— 81% of Americans say they get some kind of benefit from sharing their data. The problem arises when the parties that collect our data don’t lock it down, putting us at risk of hacks and identity theft

5 easy ways to protect your online privacy

Despite the perceived benefits, sharing your data can be scary: If you’re one of the 70% who think our data is less secure today than ever, you’re probably feeling pretty powerless. Fortunately, you can take back your online privacy with these five beginner-friendly tips.

1. Understand that you’re sharing data

Before you start managing your online privacy, accept that you’ve been giving away your data up to this point. Any time you download an app, do a Google search, send an email, or take a personality quiz, you’re telling a third party something about yourself.

2. Lock down your passwords

Please don’t use “password” as your password. 

Ideally, you should have a unique, hard-to-guess password for every login. Most of us have trouble remembering a handful of passwords, so it’s easy to get complacent. But using one password on all of your accounts means that if a hacker breaches your data, they have access to everything. That puts you at risk of identity theft. 

If you don’t want to remember a million passwords, you can use a tool like LastPass to safely store and use all of your passwords without the confusion. 

3. Use secure services with encryption

When you encrypt information, you’re converting usable data into gibberish that a hacker can’t understand. Use services with encryption so fraudsters have a harder time accessing your information. 

Start using services that use encryption to protect your data. That means using more secure services for:

  • Search engines: We love a quick Google search, but they sell your data like crazy. Even Incognito Mode won’t fix this problem. Use a more secure search engine such as DuckDuckGo.
  • Messaging: Facebook Messenger and other apps can be easily accessed by outside parties. WhatsApp encrypts messages and makes it harder for nefarious folks to access your data. 
  • Email: Hushmail is an email service that encrypts your messages, ensuring only the recipient can read your message. 
  • Wi-Fi: Please don’t access public, unsecured Wi-Fi. Anyone with a little computer savvy can see your information. Always connect to secure networks with a strong password. 

4. Check your online privacy settings

To protect your online privacy, you need to be an educated, empowered consumer. That means tightening your privacy and sharing settings. 

To start, you should lock down your most-used sites. That means:

  • Checking your app permissions: Will it continue to gather data in the background, or just while you’re using the app? Does it delete data after a certain amount of time, or keep your information indefinitely? 
  • Reading the privacy statements (yes, really): We know the fine print takes forever to read. Companies make these intentionally long and boring so you won’t read them. But if you’re truly concerned about your online privacy, always read the privacy statements.
  • Revisiting your social media settings: Facebook and other social networks let you decide how much data to share with the platform. Check your privacy settings twice a year (at a minimum) to make sure you’re locked down. 

5. Don’t share more than you need to

Even though you’re sharing data to get a benefit of some kind, it doesn’t mean you have to share all of your data. For example, most doctor’s offices don’t actually need your social security number to set up an online appointment. 

Businesses ask for your information because they know you’ll give it to them. But if a piece of information is genuinely not needed, don’t provide it. 

Online privacy starts with empowering yourself

Data privacy is a confusing, messy thing and it’s easy to feel like you don’t have control. But you don’t have to settle, especially once you learn how businesses are tracking, using, and sharing your data. 

Ready to take back your digital life? Tapmydata is the first step to seeing who has your data—and locking your information down for good. 

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