Tech enthusiasts and IT professionals have known for a long time that social media and non-discriminate use of the Internet chips away at people’s privacy. 2018 may well end up being the year that that knowledge went mainstream.
It’s Facebook that’s primarily hit the headlines, with the Cambridge Analytica scandal laying bare just how much companies can learn from individual’s day-to-day use of social media. Even people who are steadfast in their beliefs are beginning to find it disturbing that companies can tap into their likes and dislikes and use them to influence huge life decisions.
At the time of writing, we must wait and see whether investigations conclude that influencing people via social media was enough to swing the results of huge global events. These could include the election of Donald Trump and the UK decision to leave the European Union. Either way, if you’re one of the many people who’s now started to question the wisdom of using the internet without thinking through the disclosure of personal information, this article will help you take some steps to make your online life more private.
1. Stop giving information away so freely
Immediately after the Cambridge Analytica revelations hit the press, a grass-roots campaign began to encourage people to boycott Facebook. Perhaps you know people who were sufficiently concerned to suspend or cancel their account?
Many people would rather not go that far, especially when social media in undeniably useful when it comes to keeping in touch with friends and family. However, it’s perfectly possible to use Facebook and other social networks more cautiously.
The most important thing to do is to stop using third-party apps that insist on access to your friends lists and other sets of data in order to work. It’s staggering that even in the wake of such high-profile revelations, it’s so common to see Facebook friends willing to hand over information to faceless companies in return for mindless distractions such as seeing “what your name means” or “who secretly loves you.”
If you look at your Facebook apps settings, you’ll be able to see all the apps that have some level of access to your Facebook account. It’s usually quite an eye-opener, and you’re almost certain to want to remove almost everything you see on the list.
2. Protect yourself with a virtual private network
When you connect to the Internet, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) knows exactly what sites you visit. You may feel that you have “nothing to hide and nothing to fear” on this score. However, in some countries, ISPs can sell this information to advertisers. Do you really want every health complaint you’ve looked up and everything you’ve ever researched made available to the highest bidder?
A VPN (Virtual Private Network) solution encrypts the data moving between you and your ISP by passing it through a private server. You can install a VPN client on your iPhone, computer, tablet and other IOS devices. As well as massively boosting your privacy, VPNs have various other benefits, including shielding you from hackers when you use public Wi-Fi, and allowing you to hide your true physical location to access online services and sites from all over the world.
3. Keep your operating systems up to date
If you own several devices, you probably feel like there’s almost always an update to be installed. While this may seem irritating, much of the time the likes of Microsoft, Apple and Google are pushing out these updates to keep you safe and secure online.
Often, these updates are released because somebody has discovered a bug or vulnerability in the operating system. Hackers are quick to try to take advantage of them, so leaving anything “unpatched,” be it your laptop or your smartphone, is unwise.
So, stop being so quick to tap “remind me tomorrow.” Make installing updates a priority to ensure your operating systems remain as private and secure as possible.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that online privacy is always something that’s in your hands. A good general rule is that if you’re unhappy with the risk of the whole world seeing something, it’s not a great idea to put it on the internet. The events of early 2018 seem set to convince more and more people of the validity of this argument.