For many of us, the internet is an inescapable part of our everyday lives. We work, socialize, shop, bank, learn, connect, and are entertained online for what amounts to hours each day, every day. And each time we use the internet, whether it’s to send a message to an old friend from college or pay a bill, watch a video or buy a new pair of shoes, there are companies collecting data about us and our online activities.
Tracking, hacking, and trading data are three of the primary ways our data is exploited and harvested. With regular reports of data breaches and identity theft, you would be right to worry about the security of your data. In fact, a Pew Research survey found that over 80% of Americans believe they have no control over the data that companies and the government collect about them. Let’s explore each threat more closely and then look at some precautions you can take to better protect yourself online.
Websites and apps are able to track you primarily via two methods: with cookies or through your user account. When you visit certain websites, a cookie is saved to your web browser. This allows the site to collect information about your activity – what you click on, pages you visit, and the like. When you have an account for a specific website, the site can collect information on what you’re engaging with while using it. While useful for advertisers, tracking also means that companies have a great deal of information about you.
Hackers also present a real risk when it comes to living so much of our lives on the internet. Even though we might take every available precaution to avoid being hacked and secure our online presence, we don’t have that same control over the companies and organizations that hold so much of our personal data. The 2013 data breach at Yahoo affected 3 billion users. While this was the biggest data breach ever reported, countless others have affected millions and millions of people worldwide.
Data brokers are third-party companies collecting the details of your every move online. After collecting that data, they then sell it to other data brokers, companies, or even individuals. Given how much of our lives are spent online, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to know they have a pretty accurate profile of you. However, it might shock you just how broad and deep the scope of their knowledge of the intimate details of your life runs.
Protect Your Online Privacy
These threats are very real and affect people each and every day. While there is no way to completely protect yourself from data breach or hack, you can take steps to safeguard your personal information and use the internet more wisely. And – good news – these very actionable steps can be taken today to make you safer online.
1 – Install a VPN.
A VPN (virtual private network) acts as a disguise for your online activity, allowing you to use the internet without being snooped on by third parties. It masks your location and allows you to connect to public WiFi networks without fear that your activity will be watched and monitored.
2 – Keep tabs on what information is available about you.
While it might be confronting to examine what exactly can be found about you on the internet, it’s also important for your safety and privacy. A people search engine, like Nuwber, is a useful tool to monitor the details that have become publicly available about you online. Once you’re aware of it, you can take steps to remove information that is too personal and adjust your privacy settings on social media to limit some access to personal information.
3 – Install regular software updates.
Keeping your software updated ensures that you don’t miss out on new security features and fixes as they are rolled out. Consider allowing automatic updates or regularly scan your devices and install updates as soon as they become available.
4 – Protect your privacy on social media.
Social media sites are a treasure trove of personal information. Use social media more wisely by using the most stringent privacy settings. In addition, think twice before you post online. While it’s exciting to post about the birth of your child, for example, once you post your child’s birthday online, it’s in the data brokers hands forever. Use your best judgment and be cautious about what you choose to share online.
The internet is great for many things, but with its many rewards come a lot of risks. As hackers become increasingly skillful and legislation fails to keep up with the latest technology, it has fallen to the individual consumer to take a proactive role in protecting their data online. While there is no foolproof way to guarantee your data stays secure, unless maybe you retreat to a cabin in the woods for your remaining years, your best option is to take the appropriate precautions and limit what you share online. Taking these steps can go a long way in maintaining your internet privacy.