Three things you can do right now to protect your privacy online

Protecting your personal privacy online

Are you stressed out by the drumbeat of news stories about privacy violations? We are too. That’s why we put together this list of three steps that you can take to start reclaiming your digital privacy.

The first thing to understand is how your data can ‘leak’ in the first place. There are 3 main ways that can happen:

  • While you are browsing the internet
  • If you share access to data on your phone with apps that you have downloaded
  • When your accounts are hacked

This article will briefly examine each, and make suggestions for how to stop this leakage.

Protecting your privacy while browsing the internet

It isn’t news that advertising pays the bills for a lot of our favourite websites. What’s less appreciated is that advertisers are a picky bunch: they more that they know about you, the more they are willing to pay to get an ad in front of you. Unfortunately, free websites are more than happy to cater to these advertisers’ needs.

The result has been an explosion of technology that to tracks you across multiple different websites to build a profile of who you are based on your browsing history.

Ugly stuff. Plus, all this tracking software really slows down the pages you’re visiting. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Thankfully, we can quite easily opt out by downloading a browser designed to block tracking technologies. The best on the market are the Brave browser (iOS and Android) and Firefox Focus (iOS and Android).

Note that there are a few shortcomings to these browsers: websites are confused about your location (until you share it with them), and occasionally site features won’t load properly.

To us, that’s a low price to pay for better protection of our data and faster website load times.

What have found works is using these as our go-to browsers, and on the rare occasion that something isn’t loading properly, open the site in Safari (or Chrome).

Controlling the apps that are accessing your private data

The other way that your data can leak is when an app asks for permission to certain data or sensors on your phone. We often grant these permissions without giving them a second thought, and can be surprised by how many apps wind up with access to our contacts or microphone for example.

Adjusting your privacy settings in iOS

The Privacy menu in Settings on your iPhone

Apple has made it fairly easy to review all of the apps that have been granted this type of access (and to revoke that access when appropriate). Just Navigate to Settings –> Privacy. You’ll see a screen that looks like this. Tap into each item and review which apps have access to what data or sensor.

As you go through this list, we recommend is asking yourself “will this app be a lot worse without access to this data”? If you are unsure, default to revoking access (you can always reinstate access later if there’s missing functionality).

This can definitely be a bit overwhelming: there are a lot of sensors/data here and a lot of apps for each. If you only review three of these sensors, we suggest Location Services, Contacts and Photos.

If you only adjust the settings for one, make sure it’s Location Services. Very few apps need your location on an ongoing basis, so our suggested setting is “Ask Next Time”.

Protecting yourself from hackers

Unfortunately, it’s inevitable that large companies are going to get hacked, and that the data that they have about you will get into the wrong hands. There’s no way around it other than to become a recluse of some kind.

The best we can do is to ensure that one breach doesn’t lead to another.

To do that we have to understand how one breach can lead to another. It goes something like this: the hackers behind these breaches will post the information that they stole on the dark web (including passwords and emails). Then, other hackers will download this information and try the email address and password combinations on other websites.

So if you’re using the same password (or 3 passwords) for everything, you are at serious risk.

This is where password managers come into the picture. These programs remember all your passwords for you: all you have to do is remember one *really* secure password to get into the password manager.

This means that you can have a unique password for every online service, without having to worry about remembering them all.

As a general rule, we prefer third-party services like 1Password or Dashlane. But Apple has baked a password manager called Keychain right into their operating system, which we must admit is pretty effortless.

Here are the instructions for using Keychain.

What steps do you take to protect your privacy online?

So that does it for our top 3 recommendations for protecting your personal privacy. Did you try these things? Are there other things that we missed? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Einar Voldner 11 February, 2020   Reply →

    Brave browser and Duck Duck Go partnered in 2017. I have used DDG for several years and am very satisfied.

    • Alex Sebastian 18 February, 2020   Reply →

      Yes, what a great partnership!

  • John Corcelli 24 March, 2020   Reply →

    Google has a habit of remembering who you are and your accounts. If you’re in safari and do a search, when the results come up on your iPhone, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page. There you’ll see your location, usually in your neighborhood, based on your “internet address”. You can also access your settings etc. But one time I opened up a Google app, such as Docs and had to sign in to access my spreadsheet. Even after I closed the app, Google did not sign me out automatically. That’s when I discovered that I was signed in every time I turned on my iPhone. I immediately signed out which increased my privacy. It’s the little things as suggested by your blog, that really matter to ensure privacy. Another thing I do is pay cash whenever I can. Why? Because banks track time, place and amount through your debit card. I don’t about you but I’d rather not let my bank know where I am and when…although I’m making an exception during our social distancing policy.

    • Dylan @ Orchard 31 March, 2020   Reply →

      Thanks for your comment, John! Very interesting to hear people’s perspectives when it comes to online privacy. And yes, great idea to make an exception to your cash preference during our social distancing period.

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