Online Privacy and Protecting Yourself on the Internet

In 2018, it’s more important than ever to protect your personal data on the Internet. How can you make sure your information is protected and you’re safe. Check out some of these helpful tips to stay safe online.

The other day, you did an online search for information on Google about a washing machine that you noticed in store. The following days, banner ads on Facebook, Google or other sites offer similar products appear. Simple coincidence? No. You may even feel that some of your personal data, if not all, has been compromised to some extent.

What’s going on?

What is happening is that these news feeds are pulling information from databases of brands that can benefit from targeting more and more accurate. Advertising tracking is an important part of the communication strategies of large companies. The collection and interpretation of personal data left on the web represent a gold mine for marketing services, except that it has a cost to the user: their privacy. And the worst part is that you do not know who is using this information.

I have listed here each method and tool available on the web to preserve your privacy and hide as much of your personal data as possible.

Protecting your privacy and your personal data requires some investment of your time to setup and initialize. This includes leaving traditional services such as Google and Facebook out of favor of alternative services.

1. Use an alternative search engine

If you feel that Google is pretty good at responding to your search inquiries, it’s because it collects and analyzes the behavior of users and their information.

In the category “respect for privacy”, we recommend DuckDuckGo, a search engine that is committed to protecting your personal data.

2. Download an HTTPS browser plug-in or use alternative browsers 

The digital security company Electronic Frontier Foundation has developed the HTTPS Everywhere plug-in, which guarantees you the most secure browsing on websites: using the https version of each site. This makes sure nothing but the server that you connect to cannot decipher the information you deposit there. Your connection to the site is encrypted and you are thus immune to any surveillance or hacking attempts.

You can also opt for an alternative browser developed to let you surf the web while preserving your personal data.

Blocking tracking and advertising, no history, information on the reliability of the sites you visit, integrated VPN for some. Browsers such as Epic Privacy Browser, UR Browser and Iridium Browser allow you to navigate in the most anonymous way possible.

3. Use encrypted instant messaging

Instant messaging features on Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp represent more than one billion users combined. How many of these 2 billion people read their terms of use before accepting them? Given their content, we imagine that there are not many.

Here is in brief what Facebook is authorized to do with your personal data once the application installed:

  • Send messages to your contacts on your behalf without asking permission
  • Use your built-in microphone to your mobile to record information
  • Take pictures without your consent
  • Has access to the history of your contacts

Although Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger remain the most widely used email applications, they remain the most criticized by cybersecurity experts.

In the field of secure instant messaging, many experts advocate the use of Signal. Signal was developed by Open Whisper Systems. It is free and available on IOS and Android. It encrypts not only your messages but also your voice calls.

For the argument of authority, its use is strongly encouraged by Edward Snowden! Intuitive, ergonomic, secure, file sharing image or video possible, our choice is quickly made …

The application launched a foundation in February 2018 that already benefits from 40 million euros injected by the former co-founder of Whatsapp (sold to Facebook in 2014), Brian Acton. This initiative will hopefully facilitate its popularization.

4. Beware of unknown or suspicious links and documents

Sometimes you receive emails or SMS that look like an Apple advertising campaign, for example, your phone company, bank, internet or cable provider. This offer may appear very tempting as it indicates that you’ve won an iPhone X for the price of $5 or something “too good to be true”. The reality is that the website behind this offering is hoping to recover your bank data and take a few transfers without your knowledge. Sometimes personal data is locked and the attackers threaten to destroy or disclose it if payment is not made.

Rule #1 – make sure, before clicking on any link or document, that you know the person who sent it to you and that this message is intentional (your contacts may themselves get hacked).

Rule #2 – The second rule to follow is to regularly update your computer’s operating system, especially if you use Windows. Software companies publish updates constantly to fix security vulnerabilities. Finally, anti-virus software proves to be true shields against malicious intrusions. Bitdefender or Malwarebytes tools are recommended.

5. Opt for long, complex passwords

For every website you have an account, you have a password. You will not learn anything if you were told that the most optimal way to protect your accounts is to create strong passwords for each site. Another piece of password security advice is changing your password regularly.

All these website accounts, all these passwords. Yes, we can agree that managing passwords can get quite annoying. It’s okay to write them down somewhere safe.

You can also use a trusted password manager such as LastPass, 1Password and KeePass. Finally, to create strong passwords, we advise you to take a random word (a place or an object) and to modify the signs with numbers or punctuation by replacing the “t” by a “1” by example.

6. Use private browsing with caution

The private browsing feature available on the most used browsers (available on the three small dots in the top right of Google Chrome) is supposed to prohibit your browser to register your activity and allows you to “browse the web in confidence “.

In truth, it only hides the history of your activities on your computer but does not hinder the ability of sites to collect and save your personal data.

7. Protect your accounts on social networks

By default, the privacy settings are set to make the content you enter there public. It’s you proactively going in and making certain things private.

On Facebook, the personal information you indicate (workplace, age etc.), photos, videos and publications can be referenced and thus viewed on Google! To make them invisible to the general public, update each of your accounts (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin etc.). This blog from 2017 touches on how to set specific items on Facebook private. Check it out!

You must assume that you will not be able to fully own your personal data. If the current social networks are free for private accounts, you’re paying an “emotional” fee of providing them the data that you put there.

8. Install a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Investing in a VPN helps protect browsing information, encrypt all incoming and outgoing data from your connected devices, and hide your location. With this, you can connect to any private or public wi-fi network (at a coffee shop or at a friend’s house). While some are free, others ask to invest in a monthly subscription. Experts recommend three providers: Private Internet Access, Freedome by F-Secure and TunnelBear.

9. Set your geolocation settings

According to the CNIL, more than 30% of mobile applications available on smartphones use geolocation. Knowing your routes and hours of travel is knowing your habits, lifestyles, behavior, consumption … The geolocation data proves to be very valuable personal data for brands and their advertising targeting. 

10. Protect your email accounts with two-factor authentication

Two Factor Authentication can be used for many of your important accounts; social media, bank, utilities, etc. However, protecting your email account turns out to be the most important. Most sites ask you to provide your email during a registration or a purchase, which makes it very likely to be attacked. In fact, having access to your email account means having access to your banking data, social networks and other aspects of your private and professional life.

Two-factor authentication involves imposing a second security step when you or a third party tries to connect from a new device. You may be familiar with this if a bank website sends a specific code to your mobile device that must be entered on the website before you can access your email.

Hopefully, some of this advice will help you take the steps necessary to help your personal data remain safe when working online.