4 Steps to Protecting Your Privacy Online

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically shifted the way we use the Internet and the frequency with which we use our digital devices. Unfortunately, more online activity also presents more cyber security threats with criminals looking for creative ways to access your personal data. Nowadays, nearly everything you do online is tracked, and your data might be used to deliver targeted ads to you, or to give you content based on your location, like stores nearby or the weather forecast, and others might sell or share that information. The more you do online, the more accessible you are, which is why maintaining some level of online privacy is a must. Below are four steps to help protect your online privacy.

1. Update Social Media Settings

Social media contains a significant amount of your personal information including names, email addresses, locations, occupations and more. When you initially sign up, social media platforms typically default to standard privacy settings. Take it upon yourself to review those settings and determine what you’re comfortable with. This is also a good time to review what other apps are synced to your social media accounts. Many people log into specific websites or accounts using their social media or email login information. This should be done with caution because doing this allows for more access from companies, increasing your exposure and limiting your privacy. Lastly, as it relates to social media privacy, be aware of how much and what you’re sharing online. There are simple steps you can take to manage your privacy settings, such as setting your profile to private, prohibiting the ability to search for you using your email address or phone number and preventing search engines from linking to your profile. The more information you share, the more data you are providing to potential scammers.

2. Stay Safe on Public Networks

Free public Wi-Fi networks are everywhere; malls, coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, airports – you name it. According to San Diego based Identity Theft Resource Center, 79% of surveyed individuals use free public Wi-Fi. Unfortunately though, many people fail to recognize that most public Wi-Fi isn’t very secure. Hackers also use public Wi-Fi networks and it’s very easy for cyber criminals to access your personal information and steal your identity. Hackers can do things such as gain entry to the same network you’re on and observe all the incoming and outgoing data which is dangerous depending on the activity you’re engaging in. Cyber criminals can also set up fake Wi-Fi hotspots which you join unknowingly, allowing for your personal information and other critical log-in info to be compromised. In order to keep yourself safe, it’s best to avoid free public Wi-Fi. And when joining an unfamiliar network, make sure to verify that you’re joining the right one. You can avoid public Wi-Fi by using a hotspot from your phone if you have that enabled on your device.

3. Opt for Private Browsing

Websites track everything you do online. Every “like” on the ads you click on plus your browsing habits create a trail that is tracked by companies. These are commonly referred to as cookies. It’s the reason why you’re served ads for running shoes for weeks after visiting one running shoe website. One of the ways you can prevent this tracking is by browsing in private mode. Most, if not all, browsers and devices have a private mode you can enable when searching the internet. This limits or deletes the cookies that were generated during your search session.

4. Use Antivirus Software

Malicious software is everywhere and if your computer isn’t protected by antivirus, you can fall victim to damaging viruses. Consequences of not protecting your computer include making a computer run slowly, damaging parts of the system, stealing personal details or sending out unauthorized messages. Viruses don’t just target home computers, they also focus on businesses causing billions worth of economic damage each year due to system failures, data corruption, stolen data and increasing maintenance costs. Antivirus software can help detect, prevent and take action against malicious software. There are various types of software you can purchase. A quick online search will yield the best option for your devices. You may even have access to free or discounted solutions through your Internet provider.

Many believe that online privacy isn’t possible and that options for keeping your information safe are limited. But whether it’s installing the best antivirus software, or browsing in private, there are plenty of tools out there to help you keep trackers and hackers at bay. You can also keep yourself safe by implementing these 4 steps to help protect your privacy online, having safe online behavior and increasing your security awareness.

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