Online privacy has come under increasing scrutiny, in light of growing concerns about websites and services tracking your internet activity and sourcing them to authorities in order to keep a track on you. While privacy activists continue to fight for establishment of stricter laws and legislations on data privacy, it is important for you to consider key steps that you can take to minimise your digital footprint. Not only is this important to reduce your risk of being tracked online by state-backed entities, but maintaining good cyber hygiene is a good habit to keep in general – given how most big technology platforms today work on collecting your data in order to serve you contextualised services.
This is further compounded by a recent revelation courtesy of an Indian Express report, which highlights how private companies with ties to China have been tracking numerous Indian public figures, including politicians, lawmakers, journalists, sports personalities and others, in their own tactic of cyber-driven hybrid warfare against India. On this note, we look at six key steps that you can adopt in order to safeguard your privacy on the internet.
Tighten your phone’s privacy settings
Our phones are the most used gadgets in our lives, so naturally, much of our data usage happens through them. On your phone, access your privacy settings and go through all app permissions to see which services have access to your location, microphone and other sensitive elements. If you use an Android phone, login to your Google account, head to privacy settings and turn off all the tracking services from there. With Facebook collecting exhaustive amounts of data, it is suggested to not keep the Facebook app on your phone, unless it is imperative for you. Also try to segregate your critical and casual tasks – the best practice would be to use one device for financial transactions and personal, sensitive conversations, and another device (with a completely different email account) for casual or social media tasks.
Turn off cookie tracking on browsers
Turn off all cookie access, including third party cookie tracking, from your web browser. For privacy’s sake, using safer browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari can help you get a better hold of your privacy. Do not give unnecessary access to your location, and it is crucial that you do not use the same browser and the same account for carrying out sensitive conversations and transactions.
Manage social media sensibly
Social media is no longer the casual platform where you have the occasional conversation with your peers from school. Given the importance of social media platforms and how numerous organisations exploit this data to track you online, minimise your social media activity as far as possible to reduce your digital footprint. Avoid joining in on social media trends such as those that urge you to share your look from 10 years ago – such data can (and most likely is) put in use in order to get facial recognition algorithms to get even better at picking out your face from a billion other faces. Do not put out sensitive information about yourself out in the open for companies to track you, especially since sharing on a social platform also means putting it out on public domain – something that laws cannot protect from being misused.
Use reliable VPN services for browsing
When browsing the internet, it is in your best interests to use a VPN (virtual private network) in order to not just mask your traffic, but add a layer of privacy on your internet activities and insulate yourself from being tracked all across the internet. Start by picking a reliable VPN service, such as Nord or even Proton. Make sure that you do your share of research and ensure that the VPN service you select is not going to compromise your credentials to advertisers in order to earn revenue. This can help you remain largely anonymous on the internet.
Use encrypted services wherever possible
Always rely on end-to-end encryption in order to keep your personal data safe. For messaging, WhatsApp also offers end-to-end encryption today, and other safer alternatives also include Signal. For email services, encrypted private email clients with free usage tiers include Protonmail, which you must rely on in order to protect your identity online.
Do not trust unverified links and update device
Finally, do not click on unverified links on the internet. Such links have a high probability of installing trackers on your device or even installing malware and spyware, and this in turn can even compromise encrypted services. Keep away from such links, uninstall any app that you do not need on your phone regularly, and make sure that you update your smartphone’s OS and all apps as soon as updates and patches are released by the makers.