It would be hard to find anyone who doesn’t think the Internet has improved the quality of our lives. One way or another, the Internet has made things easier, providing us with more time to spend pursuing the things that are more important to each of us. You can sit at your tablet, smartphone or laptop and order just about anything you can think of, from just about anywhere in the world. Click – and you own it. Click – and you can watch it. Click – and it’s done.
But all of this convenience and ease of use has taken its toll on our privacy. Here’s why: online companies collect your data without asking permission, and they think it’s totally okay to track every move you make on the Internet and monitor and track everything you buy. Why would they do this? Simple: that information is worth a lot of money. It’s data – and some experts claim it’s the world’s most valuable commodity – more valuable than oil.
The problem comes in when companies use that information in ways it was never intended to be used. They sell the data they collect to advertisers, political messaging companies and marketers who in turn use it to try and sell you something or influence your thinking. It’s manipulative and it invades your privacy. While some say, “I have nothing to hide,” others do not want their information made public.
Here’s What You can Do
Unfortunately, there is simply no way to completely stop companies from collecting your data. But there are some things you can do to reduce the impact of the information that they collect. By taking some simple steps, the amount of information companies can collect will be minimized.
Start by finding out what’s out there about you, and make sure it’s accurate. Google your name and your business. Find out who is communicating with you, either via email or texting. Use Nuwber, an online tool that will verify a person’s identity and location by providing an accurate, verifiable identity check. You can also use Nuwber to do background checks from a wide range of publicly available sources.
It’s very important to protect your online accounts by using complex passwords and a unique password for every account you have. If you don’t want to come up with 10-digit passwords and monitor where they go, get a password tool like DashLane or Keeper to take care of the “heavy lifting” on creating and monitoring your passwords. For added protection, always use two-factor authentication when signing in to your accounts. Most online accounts now offer that extra level of protection.
Another important step is to take control of your social media. Make sure all of your settings are on “private,” which limits information access to others. There are some social media platforms including Pinterest and Instagram that will even prevent your content from showing up in Google searches.
One area that is often overlooked is keeping your operating system and apps up to date. This is very important, because software and system updates are primarily created to boost security, plugging loopholes and adding security patches where needed. If your software is out of date, hackers will have an easier time accessing and stealing your information.
Go on a “cookie diet” – and prevent all third-party cookies from tracking you. If you’re not familiar with cookies, they are bits of data created every time you visit a website, and are sent to your computer by the website. They let companies not only know where you’ve been, but how long you were there and what you did. You can disable all cookies, but be aware that many sites won’t let you visit if your cookies are disabled. For some people, that’s perfectly “ok.”
Be aware that Google tracks every move you make on the Internet. Every site you visit, every click you make on the site, and everything you order when shopping online. They’re not the only ones – other companies track your every move as well. It’s all part of “tracking” consumers, so they can ultimately sell that tracking data and information to marketers and advertisers.
Minimizing Tracking and Targeting
It’s disconcerting to learn that companies can easily track your online activities and target you to capture data they will later sell to other companies. While this activity can’t be stopped completely, you can minimize the tracking and targeting that happens when you go online. Here are some ways to accomplish this.
Use browser extensions that help prevent trackers from tracking cookies as you move from website to website. These ad-blocking and anti-tracking extensions are able to prevent trackers from identifying you as you visit various websites you frequent. The bottom line is that even though you can’t stop tracking and targeting, you can use these extensions to minimize it. Several top ones include Privacy Badger, Adblock Plus and Ghostery. All are available for download.
Another option is to stop using Google as your search engine, because Google tracks your every move. While Google is usually the “go to” search engine, there are various available search engines that do not track your activity, including DuckDuckGo, StartPage and many others.
Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is another tactic that can help protect you from companies collecting your data. If you are in a public space, like a neighborhood coffee shop for example, the public Wi-Fi lets others hack in and see your online movements and activity. By using a VPN, you keep your online activity private and anonymous. They also prevent websites from collecting your IP address or geographic location. Some top VPNs include ExpressVPN, IPVanish and CyberGhost.
All of these strategies and tactics are designed to help keep your information and data private. Unfortunately, there is no “cure-all” to stop online companies from collecting your data, and short of staying offline completely you simply won’t possess the ability to stop the tracking and targeting that happens.
Of course, staying offline completely is an option nobody wants to choose. So be as proactive as you can. Avoid phishing scams by never opening unsolicited emails that offer you “freebies” or special bonuses. Review all of your social media accounts and eliminate anyone who has sent you spam emails in the past. By being vigilant you will help to minimize the type and amount of data companies try to collect from you.