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3 Simple Ways to Shore Up Your Data Privacy

Data Privacy Day is celebrated every January 28th in commemoration of the signing of Europe’s Convention for the Protection of Individuals with Regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data in 1981. And that was two years before the Internet was born. 

On this day each year, we take stock of the increasing importance of our privacy rights in our online and offline lives. With so much more of our very existence being managed — even taking place — online, there’s no time like today to take control of your data and keep your personal information secure. Our privacy choices are personal, complex, and subject to change given advances in technology, our relationships, and our comfort with sharing our personal information in a given situation. With that in mind, we’d like to present three ways you can protect your data privacy.

Protect Your Data When Browsing and Searching 

Test out a more secure browser. You might be surprised by how much personal information you willingly put out there. Every time you use your browser to do a web search or visit sites, that’s data that can be used to paint a very specific picture about your finances, your health, your interests, your work, and your family. While most use browsers like Chrome, Safari, or Firefox, more security-conscious users might consider Tor. This open-source browser promises greater privacy by accessing websites in a more secure manner: Instead of connecting directly to a site, the software will create a tunnel to the requested web address URL, limiting the site’s ability to track you through your Internet Protocol (IP) address or traffic analysis. If your only familiarity with Tor is through stories about the Dark Web (users have to utilize Tor to access it), fear not. The browser is perfectly legal and used safely by professionals and organizations everywhere.

Clear your cache regularly. Those sticking with their current browsers would do well to regularly clear their info-tracking cookies and browser histories by clearing out the browser’s cache. (Here’s how to do it in Chrome, Safari, and Firefox.) You can also opt to prevent websites from storing cookies on your browser. (See guides for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox.)

Try a different search engine. Consider also the tools you use to search the web. Most people use Google and, to a far lesser extent, Yahoo! and Bing. But there are other options out there, search engines that don’t keep track of your search history and disallow advertisers from installing trackers as you go. These include DuckDuckGo, Startpage, and Qwant. Their search results will differ from your standard Google results page, so it’s a personal choice as to whether the privacy trade-off is worth it to you.

Embrace Two-Factor Authentication

You’ve surely read time and time again how easily passwords are cracked. Yet just this past summer, researchers found that one out of every 142 passwords is “123456” (which tops the list of 2020’s 200 most common passwords). Many folks are unwilling to use password vaults or managers. Others are still playing those cute quizzes on social media that ask for the street you grew up on or your mother’s maiden name. Some are even giving up passwords to a complete stranger for a chocolate bar.

To protect people from themselves comes two-factor authentication (2FA). The login process may be extended to include a request for a PIN or a security code that’s sent out via text, adding another step to the process. But that extra layer of security makes it extremely difficult for those with nefarious purposes to access your data. They’re not likely to be in possession of your mobile device, have your fingerprint, or know your PIN number. Consider enabling 2FA on these popular services: Amazon, Apple iOS, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.

Encrypt Your Messages

It’s not just browser activity that can be intercepted. Your messages also present a potential point of weakness in your data defense. Take a moment to learn about how secure your existing messages are, and what options are available to you.

Users of Apple’s Mac and iOS devices utilize Messages to send and receive instant messages. Communications between Apple devices are encrypted on your devices and are safeguarded behind a passcode. Be aware, however, that if you back your conversations up to iCloud, a copy of the key that protects those messages is also stored, and therefore may be vulnerable. It’s possible to turn off this backup option to ensure the security of your messages.

If you want to keep your discussions on Facebook’s Messenger app secure, check out Facebook’s Secret Conversations, available on iOS and Android. This allows you to select certain conversations that you want encrypted.

The widely used WhatsApp messaging app offers full encryption for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Windows, macOS, and desktop. With more than one billion users, WhatsApp has become the go-to software for individuals or groups looking for quick, easy, and secure conversations.

Another offering is the Signal messaging app, largely considered to be one of the most secure options. With Signal, user communications are end-to-end encrypted, allowing only the sender and receiver to review the message. Even Signal can’t see the content of those messages, and nothing is stored on company servers. (Must be why Elon Musk unofficially endorses the app.) Another option is Telegram, a chat application with a Secret Chats option that also offers end-to-end encryption and no storage on company servers. Telegram chats can even self-destruct, a la Snapchat messages and Mission: Impossible briefings.

Protect Your Data: It’s Up to You

Yes, it may seem impossible to prevent hacks and leaks. Don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture. Focus on changes you can make today, like those listed above. Even small fixes can be powerful safeguards in a world where your data may be available to the highest bidder. If you’d like to learn more about how to set controls on popular services, you can access step-by-step instructions here. Start taking control of your data today. There’s no better time to start.

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