In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook users have become more concerned about their privacy than ever before. The #deletefacebook hashtag has been trending for days, and many users see the latest misuse of Facebook user data as the “last straw” in ending their trust with the social media giant.
Unfortunately, Cambridge Analytica’s use of information from more than 50 million Facebook profiles is just one of the ways Facebook’s user data may have been mishandled. And Facebook is just one of thousands of apps collecting, storing, and making use of customer data on the internet.
So in this decreasingly private age, what can you do to reclaim your privacy online?
Steps for More Online Privacy
The only way to completely protect your privacy online is avoid using the internet altogether. But assuming that’s too drastic a step for you, here are some easier-to-manage tips that can help you keep your privacy detected:
- Block third-party cookies. Cookies are tiny pieces of information stored in your browser that track where you’re going and what you’re doing—at least partially. Some cookies are super useful—like the ones that remember what you’ve put in your shopping cart. But third-party cookies are typically used for advertising and similar functions. If you want to block them entirely, you can—but you’ll have to follow the procedure for your specific browser.
- Limit the apps you connect to. Any app that requires you to connect to another app, or one that requires some of your personal information to start, could draw in at least some of your personal information. Of course, these apps can be incredibly valuable, so you’ll need to think carefully about what you use. Email Analytics, for example, pulls in details from your Gmail account – or that of your employees – to help you gauge how productive you are. But you may not want to link your Gmail account to a dozen other apps if it means a decline in privacy each time.
- Delete the apps you aren’t using. Along these lines, if you have any apps that you aren’t currently using—whether they’re email apps, social media platforms, or integrated platforms—delete them. They aren’t doing you any good, so don’t let them pull or use any more of your data.
- Crank up the privacy settings. Take the time to learn more about the privacy settings on your favorite social media apps. You can usually switch your app to be less publicly visible, and change how your data is used or shared.
- Change your search preferences. Similarly, you can use activity controls to change how your personal information is stored and used for custom search results. Again, there’s a tradeoff here; surrendering your information could result in more relevant search results, but may also reduce your privacy.
- Change your browser preferences. Your browser will allow you to disable cookies and keep your search history and cache clear, if you so choose. You can also enable a private browsing mode, like Incognito mode in Google Chrome, to ensure your browsing session doesn’t save your browsing history, cookies, or data you’ve entered in onsite forms.
- Block tracking emails. You’d be surprised how easily incoming emails can track you, noting your location and information about how you opened the email. Services and extensions like Ugly Email can help you block your location and private information from emails that might otherwise track you.
- Avoid public networks. Whenever possible, avoid connecting to public Wi-Fi networks. These are generally unsecured, which could make your computer’s data vulnerable. It’s always better to use an encrypted, private Wi-Fi connection that you control.
- Use a VPN. If you want to step up your privacy with anonymous browsing, you could invest in a virtual private network (VPN) service, which will assign you a new IP address that can’t be traced back to your computer. NordVPN and EspressVPN are two good options here.
- Think carefully about the information you share. Finally, no matter which apps you choose to use, be careful about what information you share and where you share it. Publicly disclosing or making a record of information you don’t want to get out could be a bad move. If you’re ever in doubt, err on the side of caution by not sharing.
Finding the Balance
In the modern era, privacy is a bit of a tradeoff. The more you rely on free online apps and services, the less privacy you can reasonably expect; in some ways, giving up your personal data is the cost of these products and services. Accordingly, while you can take steps to limit the amount of personal information available to other companies and organizations, you’ll have to find the balance between exposing yourself and reaping the rewards of these services.