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With Data Privacy Day celebrated on 28th January, it seems apt to look at the little tricks that lower your online profile without giving up access to social media and browsing from mobile devices. With research suggesting that a high level of activity on social media results in a 46% higher risk of internet security infringement than not being active at all, hiding activity on social media definitely seems worth the time. Similarly, mobile browsing should be protected according to industry bodies. One survey found 100% of all 850 organisations regularly using mobile in their operations had experienced a mobile attack. So making this as inaccessible as possible is prudent.
HTTPS over HTTP every time
There is a reason why companies like Techbuyer have the prefix “https” rather than “http” on their websites. The “https” connection is inherently more secure and makes it much more difficult for third parties to access activity. Using the “HTTPS Everywhere” extension on your PC makes sure users always access the https version of a website wherever available.
Surfing in default mode on any mainstream browser leaves a trace. Cookies and temporary internet files store data which is stored by platforms like Google and Microsoft. Anonymity networks like Tor offer encrypted traffic which is much less easy to track. However, these are associated with the nefarious activities of the dark web and can result in slower internet and connectivity issues.
A more straightforward option is to turn off the tracking on mainstream browsers Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer. Each has an “Incognito” function for browsing as well as the facility to block third-party cookies and amend permissions for the websites you access. This means that the trace you leave is minimised even on mainstream browsers.
Go for friends, not followers
Unless you are a business, celebrity blogger or “influencer”, the chances are that you are better only speaking to people you actually know online. The more people who have access to personal information like what you look like, who your friends are and what your habits are, the bigger the risks are. One 2018 Harris Poll online survey put the number of Americans affected by identity theft at around 60 million, meaning that it is more important than ever to monitor and control privacy.
Activate the privacy settings
Users can do this on Facebook by setting the privacy settings, access to email and public posts to Friends” rather than “Friends of Friends” or “Public”. For Instagram, the account should be set to “Private” and any personal information should be minimised. Instagram only needs a username, so choose one that does not identify you and keep all other fields blank. Users can also prevent sharing of information with other social networking sites by changing the Linked Accounts in Settings.
Those on Snapchat can ensure only friends contact them by removing the “quick add” option on friends feeds through the gear icon. Private snaps should be set to “my eyes only” by swiping up from the camera to access “memories” and using the tick icon at the top right. Screenshot notifications pop up when a friend saves a snap, so users should pay attention to this too.
Twitter makes it easy by offering an all-in-one solution to prevent the app from tracking you. Available in the “Personalization and Data” section under Privacy and safety, the single button allows users to disable all personalised ads, sharing of data with Twitter business partners etc.
Turn off location tracking
All social media platforms will have a location tracker embedded within them that can be turned off. This limits the kind of information available online that enables third parties to track your habits. It is also worth remembering that cameras in mobile phones often have the location a photo was taken embedded in the file for those who know where to look. This can be removed in the settings section of the camera by clicking on the camera app and scrolling through the settings.
Take advantage of security features on phone browsers
Safari has a fraudulent website warning – you just need to enable it. It also has the facility to block ad tracking via a switch in the Advertising section accessed through Privacy in the Settings section called “Limit Ad Tracking”. Again, this should be used.
For those with Android phones, Google offers the option to encrypt your phone by clicking on a section at the bottom of the Security section in Settings. It also allows users to opt out of Ad Personalization and disable the “Back up my data” function.
Of course, users lose out on useful functionality in taking some of these precautions. Disabling a backup feature for Wi-Fi passwords, for example, means having to record all that information elsewhere. Encrypting a device means an hour or more of phone downtime whilst the process completes. Convenience and privacy are intertwined in the online world, and we cannot have one without losing the other. The question for each of us is which we value most.