The advent of the internet has given us so many amazing things, but it has also given governments and companies more ways than ever to gather information on people. Data privacy is big news at the moment and a lot of companies like Facebook have come under fire for the way that they are using the data they collect.

Governments are plagued by accusations of election tampering and the general public are beginning to demand more data privacy. The problem is, the technological revolution happened so quickly, legislation was lagging behind and a lot of companies had free reign to do whatever they wanted with your data.

Your average person doesn’t always have a full understanding of what data they are giving away and how it is being used, and this has only started to become clear in the last few years.

Governments are beginning to listen to people’s concerns about online privacy and there is some legislation in place to protect you online and give you more control over the data that is collected about you. But new technology like voice assistants are bringing up new concerns and there are more fears than ever about the lack of privacy that we have online. The internet is a central part of life and most of us need to use it in some capacity, which means that we don’t always have the option of complete privacy. But does that mean that privacy is a thing of the past in the age of the internet?

Some people would say that it is, but that is not an optimistic outlook. The legislation is beginning to catch up and while there is still a long way to go, we are moving in the right direction. The way that we think about data privacy is changing and some prominent politicians, like Andrew Yang, the US Presidential candidate, are arguing that it should be considered a property right. While there are still a lot of people that do not share that view, the tide of opinion is turning. But it could be a long time before attitudes change and the legislation catches up to technology, so what can you do in the meantime? If you are concerned about your data privacy, these are some of the best ways to protect yourself.

Check Social Media Privacy Settings

Social media sites are the worst offenders for gathering data about you, but it’s not just the data that they collect behind the scenes that you need to worry about. If you are displaying a lot of details about your life on social media, it’s easy for anybody to go online and pick up that information because you are offering it up willingly. A quick search for your name will give somebody an insight into your life. If you don’t like the idea of that, you need to check your privacy settings. Social media pages are usually set to ‘Public’ by default, which means that anybody and everybody can view yours. But you can easily change this to private so only people that you are friends with can view them. You could even make it completely private so nobody but you sees them.

As well as changing your privacy settings, you should think carefully about what you put on there. Whenever you are posting, always keep in mind that this information is available online, so think about what you do and don’t want to share.

Be Careful With Public Storage

Public storage services like Google Docs are great for backing up files and sharing them easily, but you have to be careful what you put on there. It’s important to remember that you are sharing whatever information you put on there with the company that owns the service, and there is always the chance that your account could be hacked. That’s why it’s never a good idea to store sensitive information on there. For example, if you like to keep a document with all of your passwords on it, don’t put that on a public storage service. Keep it saved locally on your computer instead so only you can view it. Any information that you wouldn’t share publicly on social media shouldn’t be kept on public storage either. Instead, you should get yourself an external hard drive and store things locally, so you have full control over that information.

Wipe Old Devices

If you throw away an old broken laptop, you probably don’t worry about anybody getting at the data on there. But the hard drive is probably still functioning properly and it’s not that hard for somebody to gain access to it and take any data that is on there. That’s bad news if you have details to do with your bank accounts, for example. That’s why it’s important to wipe everything completely before throwing it out, just to be safe. But people don’t always realize that simply deleting things on your computer doesn’t erase them completely, and people can still access that data if they know how. But secure data erasure on NVMe, hard drives and SSDs is simple with WipeDrive, so you need to invest in this specialist software if you want to make sure that your computer has actually been cleared out and nobody can access your data. It’s also worth looking into remote wiping, so you can delete your data if your laptop is ever lost or stolen.

Use End-To-End Encrypted Messages

Most messaging services are encrypted, but people get the wrong idea about what that means. That doesn’t mean that your messages are completely protected because they are still decrypted and stored on the server of the provider. That means that somebody could still hack into that server and get access to all of your private messages. If you want to be completely secure, you need to use services that are end-to-end encrypted, like Whatsapp. Facebook messenger does have the capacity for end to end encryption but that is not the default setting, so you will have to enable it manually if you want messages to be truly private.

Review Permissions For Mobile Apps

Your mobile apps collect a lot of data about you and what you are doing on your phone. When you first load up and app, it will usually ask you for permission to access things like the camera, your contacts, and your location. Some apps do actually need access to these things to work properly. For example, any app that involves taking pictures needs to access your camera, but it doesn’t need to access your location. A lot of apps ask for these permissions so they can collect data that will be sold on and used for marketing purposes. It’s those ones that you need to watch out for. If an app will not work unless you give it certain permissions, you should consider getting rid of it because it is there to collect your private data and sell it. You should also go into the settings on your phone and check the permissions on all of your apps so you can make sure that you are not giving up data that you shouldn’t be.

Avoid Public Wifi Networks

It’s easier than ever to access Wi-Fi when you are out and about. In a lot of cities, there is Wi-Fi access all over, and most coffee shops and restaurants that you go into will have their own Wi-Fi that you can use. But you have to be very careful when using public Wi-Fi networks because it is a big security risk. Most public Wi-Fi networks are not encrypted, which means that it’s very easy for hackers to get at your personal information. If you are going to use a public Wi-Fi network, you need to make sure that you are using a VPN. A VPN (virtual private network) gives you an added layer of protection so you are not exposing your personal data when you are on a public Wi-Fi network.

Use Strong Passwords

This last one is common sense, but most of us are not very good at making strong passwords, even though we know we should be. If you have a weak password, it makes it so much easier for hackers to get into your computer. Using the same password for everything is dangerous as well because once they have cracked one, they can get into all of your accounts. The reason that people use weak passwords is that it’s hard to remember a long, complicated password for each one. Ideally, you should be using passwords that are at least 12 characters long and contain numbers and symbols as well as letters. It also needs to be something completely random that doesn’t contain things like your name or your birthday because that makes it easier to crack. But remembering those passwords is almost impossible, which is why you should use a password manager instead. It will create different, random passwords for all of your accounts but you only need to remember one single master password. This is the easiest way to make sure that all of your accounts are protected with a strong password.

Protect Your Real-Life Privacy Too

So many of us are slacking when it comes to protecting our privacy in person. The rise of social media has made us all a bit looser with what we share with the world. But you need to make sure you have privacy off the web as well. Avoid sharing your address with others. Consider window tints that only permit One Way Vision. Don’t tell everyone everything about your life with strangers. This will all serve to reduce your vulnerability and keep you a little more safe.

It’s harder than ever to maintain your online privacy and until legislation changes, it’s up to you to take steps to protect your own personal information online.

Image by Thomas Breher from Pixabay