Someone recently asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year, and I had to think about it for a few minutes. I certainly don’t need any more stuff. However, if I could name one gift that would make me absolutely giddy, it would be getting a chunk of my privacy back.
Like most people, the internet knows way too much about me — my age, address, phone numbers and job titles for the past 10 years, my home value, the names and ages of family members — and I’d like to change that.
But there’s a catch: Like most people, I can’t go off the digital grid altogether because my professional life requires me to maintain an online presence. So, the more critical question is this:
How private do I want to be online?
The answer to that question will differ for everyone. However, as the privacy conversation continues to escalate, consider a family huddle. Google each family member’s name, review search results, and decide on your comfort level with what you see. To start putting new habits in place, consider these 15 tips.
15 ways to reign in your family’s privacy
- Limit public sharing. Don’t share more information than necessary on any online platform, including private texts and messages. Hackers and cyber thieves mine for data around the clock.
- Control your digital footprint. Limit information online by a) setting social media profiles to private b) regularly editing friends lists c) deleting personal information on social profiles d) limiting app permissions someone and browser extensions e) being careful not to overshare.
- Search incognito. Use your browser in private or incognito mode to reduce some tracking and auto-filling.
- Use secure messaging apps. While WhatsApp has plenty of safety risks for minors, in terms of data privacy, it’s a winner because it includes end-to-end encryption that prevents anyone in the middle from reading private communications.
- Install an ad blocker. If you don’t like the idea of third parties following you around online, and peppering your feed with personalized ads, consider installing an ad blocker.
- Remove yourself from data broker sites. Dozens of companies can harvest your personal information from public records online, compile it, and sell it. To delete your name and data from companies such as PeopleFinder, Spokeo, White Pages, or MyLife, make a formal request to the company (or find the opt-out button on their sites) and followup to make sure it was deleted. If you still aren’t happy with the amount of personal data online, you can also use a fee-based service such as joindeleteme.com.
- Be wise to scams. Don’t open strange emails, click random downloads, connect with strangers online, or send money to unverified individuals or organizations.
- Use bulletproof passwords. When it comes to data protection, the strength of your password, and these best practices matter.
- Turn off devices. When you’re finished using your laptop, smartphone, or IoT devices, turn them off to protect against rogue attacks.
- Safeguard your SSN. Just because a form (doctor, college and job applications, ticket purchases) asks for your Social Security Number (SSN) doesn’t mean you have to provide it.
- Avoid public Wi-Fi. Public networks are targets for hackers who are hoping to intercept personal information; opt for the security of a family VPN.
- Purge old, unused apps and data. To strengthen security, regularly delete old data, photos, apps, emails, and unused accounts.
- Protect all devices. Make sure all your devices are protected viruses, malware, with reputable security software.
- Review bank statements. Check bank statements often for fraudulent purchases and pay special attention to small transactions.
- Turn off Bluetooth. Bluetooth technology is convenient, but outside sources can compromise it, so turn it off when it’s not in use.
Is it possible to keep ourselves and our children off the digital grid and lock down our digital privacy 100%? Sadly, probably not. But one thing is for sure: We can all do better by taking specific steps to build new digital habits every day.
Be Part of Something Big
October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM). Become part of the effort to make sure that our online lives are as safe and secure as possible. Use the hashtags #CyberAware, #BeCyberSafe, and #NCSAM to track the conversation in real-time.