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Online Privacy: A Dangerous Farce

by Lisa Hayden
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The internet has become a major part of modern life. You’re rarely going to find someone who doesn’t know of the World Wide Web or social media — after all, everyone and their mothers have Facebook accounts. While the internet gives us access to virtually all knowledge that’s publicly available, it is a double-edged sword in the fact that it also exposes its users to prying eyes.

The dreadful truth about online privacy is that it’s a farce. There’s no such thing as privacy online. The moment you share something online or do anything, there’s a big chance that someone’s going to be able to track it, whether they are advertisers, the government, or worst of all, hackers. As long as you upload or input anything online, there’s a chance that your data is going to be at risk.

Even cloud data that’s secured and maintained by big companies like Apple or Amazon isn’t secure. As extensively demonstrated by a mass data leak that started in 2014, an iCloud breach resulted in the private images of a number of celebrities being leaked online. And just because you aren’t a person of interest doesn’t mean that you’re going to be overlooked in favor of larger prey.

Information is a commodity. Marketing information, buying patterns, purchasing power, your location, and other pieces of information that you would otherwise prefer to keep to yourself are all sold to advertisers. Haven’t you wondered why your Youtube ads have started displaying particular ads after you’ve recently searched for something related to the ad you got on Youtube?

If that isn’t concerning to you, you might want to think again. Advertisers and the government aren’t selective in monitoring the behavior and actions of netizens. To them, everyone — and the data they have — is fair game. But that doesn’t mean that we are entirely helpless. Thankfully, there are quite a few ways to protect your data.

Use A Password Manager

Using simple passwords is bad enough because they are easy enough to guess, especially when whoever is guessing your password is a seasoned hacker. It’s even worse if you use the same password for all of your online accounts because this means that if one account is compromised, they all are. Rather than painstakingly memorize several strong passwords, use a password manager to generate and remember passwords for your websites.

Set Up Two-Factor Authentication

Even when two-factor authentication is such an effective security measure, not many people use it, which is a big waste. This is because even when your password is decrypted, hackers won’t be able to gain access to your account because your account will remain protected via two-factor authentication. True, it’s an extra step to the login process, but it’s a necessary step to protect your personal data.

Be Cautious When Using Free Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi networks tend to lack security measures that you would otherwise find in a private and secure network. While you may be tempted to use the free Wi-Fi, it’s important to be wary of what you do while on that connection. Public networks may be observing your online activity and this is a situation where you don’t want to be doing anything important, such as logging into your online bank account or checking your emails. If you really must do these things, consider using a VPN while you’re on public Wi-Fi.

Use A VPN

As far as tools go, virtual private networks are some of the most effective ways to protect your privacy because they function as a secure gateway to the internet which conceals your IP address and channels your traffic through an encrypted tunnel. This means that nobody, not even your internet service provider, is able to monitor your online activity.

This also allows users to circumvent region restrictions so that content that would otherwise be unavailable to their region would now be accessible on platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The best part about VPNs, besides the added layer of security and privacy they provide, is how simple it is to set them up.

Use An Adblocker

While nobody likes being interrupted by ads while they’re browsing the internet, they do serve an important purpose that allows businesses to connect with their target market. However, we should also be aware that not all ads are safe, and that there are some advertisers that use ads to deliver a wide variety of spyware, ransomware, and other malware. Rogue advertisers can even gain control of your device in order to mine cryptocurrency without your knowledge, which in turn greatly impacts your system’s functionality.

While ad blockers are not designed to counteract malware, they do, however, prevent its delivery by filtering out suspicious ads from being shown to users.

Close Unused Accounts

Consider all the accounts from every platform you’ve ever opened and think of how many of those accounts are still open but are unused. These abandoned accounts could provide hackers the personal information still associated with your old accounts. An old, unused email account could be a treasure trove of information filled with previous bank statements, work-related files, and the like.

As a general rule, the less personal information you have stored online, the more secure you’re going to be. If you have any accounts that you no longer have any use for, it’s best to simply close them.

Sort Out Your Social Media Privacy Settings

It’s also important to be aware of what you share online. As previously mentioned, the less personal information you share online, the safer you’re going to be. With this in mind, be sure to double check that your social media privacy settings are set how you want them. Make sure to go through each privacy setting and to diligently set them accordingly.

Or, if you really want to be completely safe, just don’t put any information on your profile. This way, even if your account is compromised, there isn’t any personal information to steal from your account.

Keep Software Up To Date

Despite update alerts being downright annoying, they are urgent matters that need your attention. This is because these updates will often include security patches that would help bolster your defense against remote attacks and malware. If you haven’t noticed, whenever there’s an exploit that infects a significant number of devices, a patch will almost always follow shortly.

So, as annoying as they can be, security updates should never be ignored because doing so will unnecessarily put your computer and your data at risk. In these times, it is better to be safe than sorry.

But, the most important thing to keep in mind is also the most basic, which is to simply use common sense. If you notice anything suspicious online, it’s best to avoid it. Pop-ups, suspicious emails, questionable attachments from unverified sources or people that don’t have any business contacting you should all be treated with a healthy degree of skepticism. Limit what you share on social media, especially if what you intend to share could harm your reputation or that of others. A bit of subtlety is going to save you a lot of trouble, especially in an age where data is a commodity.

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