Since you clicked open the link to this post, may I be so bold as to assume that you, my dear reader, are as concerned about internet privacy as we are at OpenMined?  In the past three decades, the internet has permeated through every aspect of modern life. Among other activities, we read the news online, buy products online, study online courses.

But such convenience that the internet offers comes at a price. While surfing, we give access to our private data to all the websites that we visit by allowing them to store cookies, location access, and other scripts to our browser. Little do we know the consequences of our actions?

In this post, we will share some tips with you to help you protect your data as well as how to minimize your digital footprints.

Secured Web Browsers

Browsers like Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Microsoft Edge are widely popular and used by billions of people. In our daily life, browsers are the most used application on our computers. For this reason, it is necessary that we choose a browser that safeguards us from malicious attacks. We can also manually set privacy settings (Web Browser Secure Settings) for our browser, to get the desired secure behaviour without moving to a new browser.

Alternatively, we can choose a browser which has a very strong privacy and security settings to protect its users, by limiting the type of websites they can visit. Tor(The Onion Router) Browser was specially designed to keep its user anonymous and untraceable while they surf. The Tor browser policy is very aggressive and prevents users from browsing script heavy websites. Before considering Tor as your default browser, make sure you understand its pros and cons. If you frequently visit responsive websites, then Tor is not the best match for you. You can read The Verge’s article How to use the Tor Browser’s tools to protect your privacy to learn more about Tor’s usage. Read Tor (anonymity network) Wikipedia to learn  more about the Tor Project.

In addition, we can not ignore our mobile phones while we are discussing security. We also use browsers on our mobile devices, and all the security concerns remain the same for mobile devices as well.  Tor Browser can be a good option for smartphones as well. There is another not so popular browser out there, which is FireFox Focus.

VPN(Virtual Private Network) To The Rescue?

Even if you do not see yourself as very  tech-savvy, you have probably heard about VPN providers via some of your favourite YouTubers’ promotional videos for their VPN sponsors.

VPN ensures that your ISP(Internet service provider) doesn’t get to know which website you are trying to visit, and also the site you are trying to visit doesn’t have your actual ip address. Because of VPN, people can access blocked websites by hiding their location information. For example, you cannot access Facebook from China, but by using a VPN connection, you can bypass the restriction and access Facebook as a normal user.

VPN doesn’t ensure privacy, it’s widely used to bypass any restrictions over a website. However, VPN helps us make sure our data is not accessible by anyone around us when we use public wifi to visit websites through HTTP (not HTTPS). To know more about VPNs, watch this video by Tom Scott.

Watch Your Mobile App Privacy Settings

If you are a smartphone user, you might have used various social media apps, messaging apps, health monitoring apps, etc. They all ask for our permission before accessing any mobile resources at the beginning of app installation or before using any specific feature of the app. For example, Facebook messenger asks your permission to allow access to your gallery, microphone, contacts, and file manager. If you don’t allow the messenger to access your microphone, you won’t be able to use its voice call feature. This is a situation when it is logical to allow microphone access.

Think of a situation, where a calendar app asks for your permission to allow it to access your microphone; this is a suspicious behavior. We may not be aware of our actions all the time, so it’s good to go over the app settings over time to remove permission for some applications which don't need access to some mobile resources.

Password Manager Is Your Friend

We use facebook, twitter, linkedin, google services, and many other websites, where we need to sign in using our credentials(email, username, password). In some cases, we may have multiple accounts for a single service.

Do you think it’s a good idea to have a single password for all of your online accounts? Yes, it’s easy to remember and helpful to login your accounts from anywhere without much effort. But consider this, if anyone gets to know your password for a single account, they now have access to all of your accounts. So, it’s very important to use different passwords for different accounts. However this is easier said than done.

To help us from remembering all the passwords, password managers are here. Read these articles to choose one password manager for you -  The Best Password Managers to Secure Your Digital Life and The Best Password Managers.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we can not live in a cave to hide ourselves from online exposure, but we can hide our data. We have seen some tools and security measures above which can help us to browse safely, but it’s more important that we know the value of our privacy.  All these tools are of no use if we, the users, lack awareness and keep generously exposing our information on the internet. One thing to remember, you will never, ever be ‘forgotten’ on the Internet.

Acknowledgments: I’m extremely grateful to Nahua, Madhura and Zina for their valuable feedback.

Basic Security Learning Resources:

  1. Password Security, Incognito Mode - CS50 Podcast, Ep. 3
  2. Security - CS50's Understanding Technology 2017

Serious Concerns:

  1. "I have nothing to hide", Data Privacy in 2020 | Nelio Leone | TEDxAmityUniversityDubai
  2. What tech companies know about your kids | Veronica Barassi
  3. How data brokers sold my identity | Madhumita Murgia | TEDxExeter

References:

  1. Post image taken from - pixabay.com
  2. Browser Cookies: What Are They & Why Should You Care?
  3. Best browsers for privacy and security in 2020
  4. Ranked: Best web browsers for security and privacy in 2020
  5. Private and Secure Browsers
  6. VPN: Everything You Need to Know
  7. Password Managers
  8. How to blur your house on Google Street View (and why you should)
  9. Brave Privacy Browser Caught Automatically Adding Affiliate Links to Cryptocurrency URLs