The Internet is an incredibly useful tool, and the online world has rapidly changed the way we work, live and interact with one another on a daily basis. But while the Internet is a great tool for communication, commerce, and personal interaction, it is important to remember that it was never built with security—or privacy—in mind.
This lack of privacy manifests itself in many different ways, from pop-up ads and banner promotions that mysteriously appear following a related Google search, to more serious breaches involving credit card numbers and bank account information.
If you want to enjoy all the great things the Internet has to offer without putting your security at risk, there are some smart and remarkably simple things you can do to safeguard your privacy. Here are ten ways you can protect your privacy on the Internet without giving up all the wonderful things the online world has to offer.
- Always log out of the websites you visit, and never select the “Remember Me” option. If the website you are visiting requires a login, don’t forget to log out before you go to another site. Additionally, most browsers like Chrome and Firefox offer an option to save and autofill all of your usernames and passwords. Although the autofill feature is extremely convenient, a single computer breach could easily place your personal data, credit card information, usernames, and passwords at risk.
- Never store your credit card information, debit card data or other personal information, on shopping websites. Almost every online retailer like Amazon offers to save your billing information for future purchases. Although all online retailers promise the highest security for its customers, the fact is sensitive consumer information is hacked and stolen from companies on a regular basis. Look no further than Target, Home Depot, and other retailers that recently had customer information stolen from their databases.
- Take advantage of private browsing. Every major browser includes a private browsing option (Chrome calls is “Incognito mode”), and turning it on can safeguard your privacy and stop websites from tracking your online travels. Private browsing does not offer totally anonymous browsing as many people wrongfully assume. But private browsing can provide additional security while surfing the web.
- Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to shield your IP address. Your IP address is your digital fingerprint, and it allows third-party websites to track your browsing habits. Proxy servers and other services can shield your IP address from public view, and using them can significantly enhance your security. Although somewhat complicated, VPNs are pretty easy to use, and they are inexpensive, too. For example, IPVANISH is a popular VPN that costs less than $10 per month. The bottom line is using a VPN will prevent companies and other entities from tracking your browsing activities.
- Spend ample time reading the privacy policies for every site you sign up for, including the accounts you regularly log in to. It might be dry reading, but those privacy notices contain valuable information. Because of this, it is crucial that you take the time to read those notices and avoid websites and companies whose privacy standards are not up to your own. Many people who read through companies’ privacy policies would be very reluctant to “Agree” to their terms.
- Set up a Google alert for your name, as well as your employer’s name. Contrary to popular belief, Googling yourself is not a vain thing to do—it is a smart thing to do. Setting up a Google alert for your name and employer can give you an early warning that people are talking about you online, and possibly spreading false rumors and information about you or your company. Google alerts may provide insight into those who might maliciously target your computer(s) or network.
- Be careful when using public Wi-Fi hotspots. As the number of public hotspots steadily increases, they provide a convenient way to get online, almost everywhere, but they not always safe. Avoid sites that require a username and password (like credit cards or banking accounts) when using these hotspots. Even though public Wi-Fi hotspot administrators typically promise safety and security while browsing the Internet, the truth is, you never know who else is watching or able to access and copy your personal information while accessing a public hotspot.
- Consider alternative search engines when surfing the internet to increase privacy. Google and Bing may be the biggest dogs in the browser kennel, but there are other, more privacy-friendly alternatives. Alternative search engines include DuckDuckGo, Ask, Dogpile, and Yippy. Even though Google is currently the most popular search engine, DuckDuckGo, and other search platforms offer more anonymity and excellent search results.
- Check your social media settings. This seems like a simple tip, but one that is often overlooked or forgotten. Privacy policies at social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, are always changing, and it is important to keep up with the changes as their rules change. Unless you take specific action to privatize or hide your profile, all social media platforms are defaulted as public. Due to the openness of social media platforms, it is critical to check your privacy settings frequently to make sure you are protected.
- Be careful about surveys and questionnaires. Several survey companies offer compensation and prizes for completing questionnaires about practically anything, from kitchen appliances and television shows, to shampoo and laundry soap. Filling out surveys and sharing your opinion can be fun and even profitable, but think before you click. Make sure the firm sponsoring the survey is reputable, and avoid questionnaires that strike you as “spammy” or fraudulent. Take the time to do research on survey companies to make sure they are legitimate and safe before you provide them with any information.
The Internet is a great place to be, but privacy is not its strongest suit. In many ways, the online world is still the Wild West, and if you want to protect yourself, you need to take a proactive approach to keeping your personal data under wraps.