Life in the digital world feels so natural and simple. You take pictures of yourself and your loved ones and then share them with your friends on social media. You enable cookies on your browser, search for whatever is on your mind, and click on all the images and links that people send you through messaging apps. You use common details of your life as passwords for a dozen or more online accounts, because you can’t remember so many unique strings of letters and symbols. After all, if everybody does it, what’s the big deal?
A double-edged sword
To be sure, many types of data sharing bring benefits that are very real. Businesses like Bangkok Bank use consumer behavior in order to design better services, make personalized recommendations, and provide a more enjoyable and customized user experience. We also use data analysis to create services that can increase financial inclusion; by learning more about personal behavior and financial patterns, we can better understand people who are currently unbanked – and improve their ability to access loans and micro credit.
Yet this system works because we go to great lengths to keep all of our user data private and secure. Not every organization takes their privacy commitments so seriously, and some online actors are only too willing to take advantage of people’s trust. As a result, everyday internet users have a responsibility to stay vigilant, lest their privacy be exploited for somebody else’s gain.
Every step you take
Anything with value is worth protecting – your personal data very much included. Yet many people are willing to sacrifice privacy if the reward seems high enough. The internet delivers power, convenience, and entertainment on a scale that is truly unrivaled. It has become such a huge part of our lives that we cannot imagine not having all this information and connections at our fingertips. For this reason, we tend to overlook some of the more abstract or long-term costs that we pay each time we connect.
But those costs are very real. Even when everything goes right, the amount of data we send to companies like Google and Facebook every day is extraordinary. From your complete photo library, to your full browser history, to real-time location data, chat logs, address books, entire inboxes, videos watched, files downloaded (regardless of whether you thought you deleted them), and even your microphone and webcam data – your private information is captured by companies that are in the business of selling it to third parties.
The situation gets even more complex when data breaches occur, and sensitive personal information falls into unknown hands. These breaches, as well as the moment-by-moment vacuuming of your private data by legitimate companies, need not be seen as just the ‘cost of doing business’ online. There is a way to push back against this loss of privacy, if not stop it altogether – and the means to do so are within your reach. Best of all, you can take back much of your privacy without sacrificing the key elements that make our digital world such a magical place to be.
Handle with care
The following list suggests a number of actions to take and habits to adopt, all of which can be easily and seamlessly incorporated into your daily routine.
- Use a password manager. As an encrypted tool stored either on your computing device or on a secure cloud, a password manager makes it easy to create and implement strong and unique passwords for each of your personal accounts
- Connect to the internet securely. Programs like Tor can anonymize your data while you browse online.
- Start searching privately. The convenience of Google is hard to beat, but its many privacy-minded competitors offer far better protection of your personal data.
- Post about your private life less often. Each time you feel like putting personal photos on social media, blogging about your relationships, or uploading home videos, consider that the information you publish will likely be stored in tech company databases for a long time to come. It may be wise to hold back once in a while – keeping your public face, but letting private things stay private.
- Avoid mysterious links, sites, and downloads. Spam emails and chat messages may try to tempt you to click on links that will infect your computer with malicious software. Don’t click on anything if you don’t know the source.
Pop-ups like these should always be regarded as spam – or worse.
- Use up-to-date antivirus software. An effective antivirus program will monitor your downloads and periodically scan your computer, neutralizing harmful files to keep your data safe.
- Use a private web browser. Not all web browsers offer equal protection for your data. Try switching to a private browser – or at the very least, adjust your existing browser’s privacy settings to better protect yourself. Some browsers also have separate modes for untracked private browsing; using these can also help you manage your data trail.
- Make sure your chats are encrypted with a secure messaging service. End-to-end encryption can ensure your communications are protected from online eavesdroppers.
- Avoid public Wi-Fi hotspots. Public networks are much more vulnerable to hacking – so stay on a private connection if you want your connection to stay private.
- Use common sense. Don’t leave your passwords lying around, or trust offers that seem too good to be true. Check URLs before clicking on them to ensure that they are taking you where you want to go, and make sure that the web address begins with https:// so that your connection is secure. Beware of malicious webpages designed to mimic authentic sites.
All of the above tips are easy to implement and represent good online hygiene to protect you from viruses and other kinds of data harvesters. By staying mindful of your personal data, and the lengths some people will go to get their hands on it, you’ll be in a much better position to keep your private information where it belongs: a place where only you can see it.