Local search specialist at E2M
While you can’t avoid making online transactions or opening social media accounts, there are still ways to limit the exposure of your personal information. (Shutterstock/File)
While it is true that increased connectivity has made it possible to communicate with our loved ones across the globe with ease, this increased connectivity has also made privacy an increasingly rare commodity. Just Google your name and you would be surprised to find out how much of your personal information is out there.
Not just the bad guys but businesses are also interested in obtaining your personal information, such as email address, phone number, social media profiles, credit card information and home address among other things. Bad guys are even hacking into data-based POS systems in stores and restaurants to steal your personal information.
The only difference is bad guys will use this information to commit identity fraud, while commercial organizations use it to collect information about your online activities that will allow them to send you targeted ads.
While you can’t avoid making online transactions or opening social media accounts, there are still ways to limit the exposure of your personal information. The following six tips will prove helpful in this regard.
1. Share as little as possible on social media
The more information you share, the easier it will be for the bad guys to steal it. It’s common sense. The best way to improve your social media privacy is to share as little information as possible with the world. Your closest friends and family members don’t need social media to obtain details such as your birth date, telephone number or email address. They already know all of this. So, why broadcast it to the world?
Each social media site allows you to change your privacy settings. For example, you can make your Instagram account private, meaning you can decide whether or not to accept a friend request and only your friends can see your content. Facebook, on the other hand, provides its users with a variety of privacy settings including profile photo protection and control over who can see your posts. These features are meant to protect your privacy. So, use them whenever you can.
Avoid sharing information that may allow people to track you down. Don’t fill out your complete social media profile. You can fill in the only mandatory fields. Hackers may use these details to hack into your bank or credit card accounts.
2. Use private or secure browsing
Whether you are accessing your social media accounts or making an online purchase, you will use a browser to connect to the web. Unfortunately, all web browsers leave a trail of footprints in order to keep a detailed track of your online activity. Usually, this information is collected to make your browsing experience faster and more relevant. However, hackers can get hold of this information readily.
The simplest way, however, is to use the private browsing feature. It deletes cookies, temporary Internet files and browsing history whenever you close the window. You can also use a web proxy or a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to hide your IP address and browse the internet anonymously. That’s the highest level of protection you can get.
3. Use strong and unique passwords
Everything needs to be password protected, from your cell phone to your laptop. The same goes for online accounts including emails, social media and internet banking. However, there is no point in having a password if someone can easily decode it. That's why you should use strong passwords. Don't use personal information such as your initials, birth date, phone number or zip code while creating passwords. A combination of random characters, numbers, and symbols is your best bet.
However, never use the same password for two or more accounts. Most people use the same password for the sake of convenience. But if one of your accounts gets hacked, the same password will allow hackers to access all your other accounts. If you have difficulty remembering different passwords, use a password manager tool. Apart from managing all your passwords, it will also help you generate super strong passwords.
4. Use two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication allows you to take your password protection to the next level. Fortunately, most websites including several email service providers and social media have started offering two-factor authentication. In two-factor authentication, you have to use a code that the site texts to your phone at the time of login. Thus, even if hackers know your password, they won't be able to hack your account as they don't have your cell phone.
5. Avoid using public Wi-Fi and hot spots
Using Wi-Fi connections in airports, train stations, bus stands and cafés may seem tempting. However, these connections are notoriously insecure. Anyone can tap into your online activity. So it is best to avoid using public Wi-Fi connections whenever possible, especially when sharing personal information.
Use your mobile data instead. If you have to use public Wi-Fi, make sure to use a data encryption app or use a VPN. Most people avoid using a VPN because it slows down the browsing speed. However, safety is more important than speed.
6. Check for HTTPS
When you are browsing, make sure the website starts with HTTPS. If the site begins only with HTTP, the connection is not encrypted and therefore not secure. Anyone can access the information transferred between you and the website.
HTTPS means the website is offering an encrypted connection to the end user. So the data you share with this website is visible only to those that have authorized access to read it. You can also download a browser extension that helps you encrypt your web browsing.
There are also different types of encryption plug-ins for free email service providers that are inherently insecure. Today, however, almost all websites offer encrypted connections. Still, it is better to double check before you start browsing.
Over to you
With the help of these tips, you can browse the internet and communicate with your loved ones without compromising your privacy. However, these tips are only helpful for protecting individual privacy. As consumers, we should demand stricter laws and regulations for those who invade the privacy of other individuals for personal profit. So, don't just stop at using these tips. Spread the word and create more awareness about the increasing invasion of privacy on the web.
Vivek Patel is a local search specialist at E2M and a San Diego-based content marketing agency who specializes in content strategy, creation, promotion and SEO for domestic and overseas clients. His expertise includes local search optimization, strategic planning for multi-location and link-building tactics. Find him on Twitter @vivekrpatel, Facebook https://www.facebook.com/vivekrpatel and by email at [email protected]
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