10 simple things you can do to strengthen your online privacy

June 13, 2013 Comments Off on 10 simple things you can do to strengthen your online privacy

It’s been a very disheartening couple of weeks for people concerned with protecting personal information. From the US Supreme Court’s ruling about routine DNA collection to the ongoing revelations about the NSA Prism program, it’s easy to feel helpless in the face of such massive data collection. And while the amount of surveillance – from governments, corporations, and even nosy individuals – is likely to increase, there are a few basic things you can do to help safeguard your data from others.

  1. Reduce your activity on social networks. Did you know that banks routinely check out your FaceBook profile? And now the IRS has joined the party.
  2. Encrypt important files. TrueCrypt is an excellent choice for this essential task.
  3. Use a secure search engine. Google is very clear about how it stores your search history. If this bothers you, take a look at DuckDuckGo and ixquick.
  4. Use a more secure browser. Chrome is a good choice, but there are additional offerings out there. You can expect this market to heat up in the wake of all these snooping disclosures.
  5. Clear your browser cookies regularly. Many web sites inspect these cookies to get a much better idea of your browsing history.
  6. Use TOR or a VPN. These options both offer greatly improved communication security. TOR is easy to set up and use, too.
  7. Create multiple email addresses. There’s no reason to route everything through a single address. Instead, consider setting up different accounts at various providers.
  8. Put your phone in airplane mode when you’re not using it. Your phone constantly transmits details about your location back to your service provider. If you’re not actively using it, why broadcast that information?
  9. Pay cash. Do you really need to charge that burger?
  10. Be stingy with what you share. It may sound anachronistic in this age of updating FaceBook with every trivial aspect of life, but consider simply entering less data about yourself online. For example, there’s no reason for you to provide an e-commerce site with your home, work, and mobile phone numbers.

I’ll be adding more tips to the list, so if this topic interests you be sure to check back here from time to time or follow me on Twitter at @RD_Schneider.

Facebook follows you into the drugstore

September 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

By now I think most people understand that everything they do or say on Facebook will be recorded. And I’ve already written about how banks are poking around your Facebook profile and activity. But there’s a new development underway that takes intrusive analytics to the next level: Facebook is now “partnering” with data aggregators such as Datalogix to link your offline purchases with your online profile.

Datalogix has purchasing data from about 70m American households largely drawn from loyalty cards and programmes at more than 1,000 retailers, including grocers and drug stores. By matching email addresses or other identifying information associated with those cards against emails or information used to establish Facebook accounts, Datalogix can track whether people bought a product in a store after seeing an ad on Facebook.

This is yet another reason to use a variety of different email addresses for your online and offline activities, and to only provide the bare minimum of requested information when registering for a site or offline program. While it’s not foolproof, it does help reduce the ease of the cross-system joins that are at the heart of many of these privacy-eroding analytic schemes.

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