Online privacy has always been a big issue, but recent events have made more people realize just how much it matters to secure their online data.
As more and more people become aware just how much of their data is out there and how easily it can be accessed, they start asking themselves what they can do about it. While there’s no answer to that question that offers total comfort, there are a few ways you can ensure that your data isn’t just sitting out in the open.
Here are the things you need to know about protecting your data starting with the Facebook situation.
What’s Happening With Facebook?
On March 17, a story broke regarding Facebook and a data firm called Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge was caught taking data from millions of Facebook accounts to help shape certain political events.
The investigation that followed led people to realize the data breach was partially caused by Facebook’s lax privacy policies. This has inspired a wave of people to consider deleting their Facebook accounts in order to protect their data. Others are just wondering how to protect it.
Can You Protect Your Facebook Data?
Anyone who tells you that you can completely protect your Facebook data is trying to sell you something. However, you can be cautious.
Here are a couple things you can do regarding the privacy of your Facebook data:
Download Your Facebook Data
Want to know most of the things that Facebook knows about you? There’s a way to do it.
First, go to Facebook while logged-in to your account and choose “Settings.” At the bottom of your page should be an option to “Download a Copy of Your Facebook Data.” You should then have the option to download the archive and then store it elsewhere.
Why would you want to do this? There are a few reasons. The most important among them is the ability to know what Facebook knows about you. You can probably guess they know your name and birthday, but what else is on there? Knowing the answer to that question can go a long way.
There’s also might be an advantage to having a verifiable copy of your data. If anyone were to ever claim they don’t know something about you and you can prove they did, it might be in your interest to do so.
Limit What Facebook Can Share
Go to Facebook settings and choose “Apps.” You should see an option for “Apps others use.” Choose “Edit” there and deselect every piece of information you’re not comfortable sharing with those who are technically allowed to access it. This is one thing that we advise all Facebook users to do.
If Facebook is the Problem, Then Shouldn’t I Just Delete My Facebook Account?
You certainly can, but don’t think that Facebook is the only problem.
The truth of the matter is that many companies utilize a similar data sharing policy. Even if they don’t, they’re still collecting and storing your data in some way or another. We don’t say that to scare you, but it’s important to realize the extent of the potential problem.
If you want to delete Facebook, do so. However, since it’s not practical to delete everything, then you’ll need to take some general steps to protect yourself.
Get a VPN
We’ve talked about VPNs before, but we can’t recommend them enough.
While a virtual private network can’t completely protect you, it can limit the potential damage considerably. A good private network is much more difficult to access and trace. It can’t do much for information already stored in services, but it’s great for protecting your general browsing.
You can find a list of VPN services we recommend here. As always, though, read up on each service a bit before you commit to one.
Use an Anonymous Browser
Not comfortable with using a VPN? Well, then you might want to consider a private browser instead or as a companion.
Private browsers like Tor implement a series of security systems that help bounce online communications across various channels. That means that it’s much more difficult for someone to just “reach into” your browser data and take what they’re looking for.
We’d still recommend a VPN over this option, but it’s great for people looking for a minimal option.
Use A Secure Messaging System
The one service we can’t recommend enough is a secure SMS app. While standard services like Whatsapp and iMessage are generally trusted, they’re not industry standards in terms of security.
For that, you’ll want a service like Signal. Signal is one of several SMS services that promises to ensure that the information you send over your messenger cannot easily be accessed by anyone.
Again, this won’t help you with specific apps, but it’s pretty much a necessity for anyone who uses text messages whatsoever. As for service options, you can read about some of our favorites here.
Activate Find my iPhone
When we talk about data protection, we’re usually talking about digital safeguards. However, there are plenty of data thieves out there who are happy with snatching your iPhone and calling it a day.
The Find my iPhone service is your best friend against those thieves. For those unfamiliar, it allows you to use GPS to track a stolen iPhone. The system isn’t perfect, but it’s your first line of defense at the very least.
Honestly, there’s little reason not to have this service activated.
Be Wary of Public Wi-Fi
It’s very difficult to not use public Wi-Fi from time to time. That’s especially true if you live in a major metropolitan area. It’s a fantastic convenience and also digital privacy enemy number one.
Public Wi-Fi is designed to be accessible by a large number of people. That also makes it accessible by those who might use it for malicious purposes. Some people will even set up networks solely designed for phishing.
Avoid using public networks whenever possible and use a VPN whenever you do.
Always Use Two-Factor Authentication
This is one of those common sense features that everyone should utilize.
Whenever you have the option to use two-factor authentification, do so. This simple extra step to protect the ability to log-in to your account may just be the thing that prevents someone who shouldn’t be able to access your account from doing so.
It’s not a perfect system, but Authentication protects your phone data from a large number of data thieves who lack more sophisticated methods.
Don’t Use Touch ID or Facial Recognition
First off, it’s not as hard to crack fingerprint and facial ID recognition systems as you might think it would be. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. More importantly, there are laws that protect you in the event of having to enter your phone’s password if requested to do so. These same laws are a bit more obtuse as it concerns recognition software.
As such, it’s best to just ignore them entirely.
Consider a Password Manager for Stronger Passwords
You probably know that you need strong passwords. The problem is that it’s difficult to remember all your strong passwords.
Password managers can help you with that problem. It might sound like a bad idea to put all your eggs in one basket, but that’s not exactly how it works. Your passwords are already out there protected by individual sites. Password managers allow you to add an extra layer of protection. The best ones don’t even store your master password anywhere online.
Don’t have total faith in password managers, but consider using some of the best ones out there.
Think About Using an Ad Blocker
Ad blockers have a reputation for being detrimental to the revenue of various website. They certainly can be. However, an ad blocker used judiciously can be very helpful for privacy protection.
Some ad blockers can be run on a kind of “minimum mode” that ensure they only target ads suspected to be malicious. Others allow you to replace ads with verified safe ones.
The point is that it’s possible to use ad blockers in a way that is responsible to yourself and your favorite websites. You can start by viewing a list of recommended services.
Use Multiple Credit Cards
The idea of having multiple credit cards used to be somewhat frowned upon. Now, though, it’s actually recommended.
So long as you can manage your personal spending habits, using multiple credit cards can be a great way to protect yourself. Ideally, you’ll use a different one for each major website you make purchases with, but even spreading your purchases across a few can help.
Have More Than One E-Mail Address
This might sound like an inconvenience – it kind of is – but it’s also very helpful.
When you only use one e-mail address, you open yourself up to a single breach leading to a mass compromise. By using a different e-mail address for all your accounts, you limit your potential exposure to a data breach.
Is this step an absolute necessity? Not really, but it’s a pretty good general idea.
Be Careful About Backing Up Sensitive Information
Using cloud storage as a back-up is a great – and sometimes recommended way – to keep all your data together. However, you do need to be aware of what you’re storing.
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to avoid putting information like credit card numbers, passwords, and similar pieces of information in the cloud. That’s not because you should fear the cloud, but rather because it’s generally better to ensure that information is available in as few places as possible.
As always, make sure that you’re using the most secure cloud storage options for when you do use them.
Double Check Your App Settings
We’ve already talked about Facebook settings, but it’s not the only app you need to monitor as it concerns your data.
Whenever you can, go into the settings of all your apps and see which ones are sharing what data. As much as you’re able, be sure to disable any settings that allow an app to store and share your data.
It might even be worth doing this even when it limits the functionality of certain apps.
Learn to Check a Website’s SSL
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a basic form of encryption that protects the flow of data on most websites. We say most websites because SSL is not a guarantee.
Across all websites that ask for your information – especially if it’s a website where you’re making some kind of transaction – you need to make sure the site utilizes SSL. You can do that at websites like this one.
While it’s especially important to check new websites, you’ll want to make sure that you occasionally check sites that you believe you might be familiar with. That way, you won’t get caught by a fraudulent URL or an outdated security certificate.
Delete Inactive Accounts
Think carefully about how many accounts you’ve created online. Is it dozens? Hundreds? Remember to factor in old e-mail accounts and accounts you created for a trial membership.
Well, you’re going to want to delete those whenever possible. It might not sound like that big of a deal, but even having your name and e-mail address out there across inactive accounts can sometimes be enough to lead to a variety of future problems.
Why risk it, then? Just get rid of the accounts you don’t use anyway.
Restrict Yourself on Social Media
This one won’t be popular, but it just might be the most important.
As great as social media is, it’s also proven to be a liability for privacy protection. You may love sharing your life online, but doing so carries some very real privacy risks. Those risks can be difficult to protect yourself against even with all the above steps.
If you want to be truly careful, you’ll limit how much you use social media and what you share on it. Just think about whether you want there to be a permanent record of whatever you post.
There may be no perfect way to protect your online data, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do everything in your power to do so. By following the steps above, you’ll be well on your way to experiencing a more secure online existence.
Have a favorite way to protect yourself online that we didn’t mention? Be sure to share it in the comments below.