Have you ever used Google Timeline? If you have a smartphone with Google account, you probably have — check here (https://www.google.com/maps/timeline). This Google function allows you to see every place you’ve visited. When I show it to people, their reactions usually fit into two possible categories: ‘oh, it’s so neat, you can see every country you’ve visited’ or ‘how can I turn it off, it’s super creepy’.
Internet users know their data is saved by almost every website they visit, whether in the form of cookies, collection of personal information or using phone settings. The debate today is no longer on if it is acceptable for websites to collect our information but rather on how in-depth this information can be, how long it is kept and what are the website security settings. Because, of course, lack of privacy isn’t inherently bad. Most of apps and websites operating online collect data on people to make their product more desirable and easier to use.
Each of us falls somewhere on the spectrum between keeping our privacy and experiencing all of the conveniences data sharing can provide, from people who avoid smartphones altogether to some who share their location with every shady app and give their friend list to every popular Facebook test.
For those that fall somewhere in the middle, here is a list of suggestions what you can do to avoid a total breach of privacy without returning to the Middle Ages.
Keep your accounts safe from other people
Before you worry about big corporations stealing your data, make sure that the information can’t go into the hands of someone (even more) sinister. Internet is a great place to steal your identity and/or credit card info. To keep your accounts safe, always follow these suggestions — the more of them you combine, the more effective your protection will be.
- Use strong passwords, preferably — in password managers. It is annoying when websites ask for a password that contains capital letters, lowercase letters, numbers, special characters and so on. It is also the strongest type of password. When determining your password, avoid your name, your pet name, date of birth — and don’t use the same password everywhere. If it is too difficult to remember a separate password for all the accounts you have, use a password manager: a secure place where you can keep your password.
- Enable two-factor authentication. Some websites offer the possibility to protect your information with two layers of security, e.g. when you write in your password, the website sends a text message or notification to your phone. Your confirmation that you’re trying to access the account provides another layer of security. While sometimes cumbersome, two-factor authentication is an easy way to prevent password theft.
Keep your privacy as safe as possible
- Use a VPN. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a way to move your internet connection to a different location so that websites find it more difficult to track you. It can also be useful to access blocked content and services not available in your country.
- For short-term privacy, use incognito or private browsing modes. While it doesn’t mean your browsing will be completely private (the website you visit and your internet service provider might still see your activities), it helps against leaving cookies and saved information. It is also useful for private browsing in shared places, such as library computers. Don’t let the next user know your browsing habits.
- Enable tracker blockers and ad blockers. They help by blocking analytics, marketing and advertisement products used in most places. When you use the blockers, they not only stop personal information, such as your location, from being shared, but also keep the website advertisement-free. This is actually the ‘one trick marketing professionals hate’ — and you will never need to see similar phrasing again.
- Avoid posting personal details online. This is the most straightforward and often most difficult step to take. Large corporations, such as Facebook or Google, get some data automatically — but most information we give away willingly. Think carefully before you post a photo of your child, announce a new pet, post that you are going away on vacation or plan to get married. Every post will be analyzed and added to the information the website knows, and later used to provide relevant ads. It is also not safe from a personal safety viewpoint: if you post that you won’t be home for the next two weeks, there is a much higher chance to return home and find some of your things missing.
Giving up your information means receiving much more personalized, relevant and uninterrupted experience online. Keeping your information secure is often cumbersome and time-consuming, but worth it if you don’t like the thought of sharing your life with every marketing professional with access to Google Analytics. The most important thing is to find balance between the two extremes.