How to Effectively Secure Your Personal Information Online
The National Security Agency has already admitted to obtaining and examining the metadata of every American. Then there's Facebook blatantly making use of its users' images, likes, and status updates for targeting advertisements. These two privacy-related concerns are just samplings from a much more widespread phenomenon that involves your personal data being captured, shared, and potentially misused.
But you can certainly do something to safeguard your personal information online. Here are tips for doing that.
Avoid or Limit the Instances When You Share Your Data
Be selective or simply refuse to give away your personal information. If you are filling out online surveys, warranty cards, and the like, consider limiting or not providing your preferences or demographic information.
This is the era of Big Data. Even trivial personal data can be mined, used, and shared with data-collecting sites and services. You are making a mistake by believing that sensitive personal information is only restricted to your social security number, credit card numbers and banking information, as well as medical records. Bits of trivial personal data and online activities, when aggregated and analyzed, can say a lot about you. For instance, have you noticed how eerily accurate an e-commerce site such as Amazon.com can be when proffering product recommendations?
Consider Making Up Information
Each time you sign up for an online service, you give away pertinent information that can be used to predict your preferences, leverage your browsing and search histories, and geo-target you for ads, among other things. To safeguard sensitive personal data such as your phone number, home address, and birthday, consider providing false information. Or better yet, make up two personas: one serves as your professional or public online profile, while another can be used as your personal profile that takes advantage of any privacy control settings made available to you.
Get Rid of All the Online Accounts You Are No Longer Using
Switching from one online service to another can result in a sprawling online trail carrying your personal data. In the event that any of those internet-based services you've once used disappears, the service can be sold--along with your information--and may come back at some point as part of your online profile history. Thus, you might want to delete your unused social media, email, and other online accounts.
Browse the Web Without Giving Away So Much about Yourself
There are several ways to effectively safeguard your search and browsing history against data collection and marketing-related efforts.
Most browsers come with Do Not Track functionality. You should turn that on. Then hide your search and browsing histories by blocking third-party cookies that follow your computer's Web activities across various websites. Aside from blocking cookies, you should also clear them periodically in order to prevent tracking across websites. This cookie ID tracking is done to better target consumers for behavioral-based advertising, which uses an individual's interests and preferences as reflected by his Web-browsing habits.
You can protect your online search activities by using search engines that do not save your search history. Examples of such search engines are DuckDuckGo and Startpage. Another option is to employ proxy search, the likes of Disconnect Search and Ixquick, to act as a barrier between your favorite search engine and your browser. Or you can simply opt for a search engine that enables you to turn off saving your browsing and search histories. For instance, turn on Google Chrome's incognito option if you use that browser.
For full-on blocking of tracking scripts and to evade the user data collection of advertisers who intentionally disregard the Do Not Track indicator, you might want to install an add-on to your browser. Examples of anti-tracking add-ons include Disconnect, DoNotTrackMe, and Ghostery.
To encrypt data transfer between the internet and the browser you are using, opt for services that use the HTTPS protocol. You can easily check this by looking at the website URL. If it says HTTPS instead of the unencrypted HTTP, then it means you are using a secure session. And because not all websites implement the HTTPS protocol, you can always sign up for a virtual private network (VPN) service if you want your personal data to be adequately protected. A VPN service can safeguard both your IP address and encrypt the data you are transmitting, effectively preventing hacking and snooping.