Despite the seemingly endless hack attacks, and a recent Pew study showing that Americans feel powerless to protect themselves against intrusions on their online privacy, few Americans do much in the way of adopting privacy enhancing measures.
Here are some low-tech tips to reduce your digital footprint and exposure.
Self Censor: Search
The problem: Search engines such as Google have built their business models on selling keywords from user searches to advertisers, so searches are never private.
The solution: Don’t ask Google anything you would not be comfortable sharing publicly—with your boss, lover or worst enemy. By self-censoring, you limit the information Google can sell advertisers.
Mess with the System: Your Data
The problem: Data brokers are building a digital profile on you to sell you targeted ads.
The solution: Send mixed messages to search engines and the data brokers who harvest information from those searches.
Eye Spy: Cameras
The problem: Cameras embedded in phones, tablets, smart TVs and security systems can be hijacked by hackers and turned into spy-cams (and the footage used for blackmail).
The solution: Cover all your inner-facing cameras with electrical tape or a sticker, easily removable for when you want to snap a pic or FaceTime with grandma.
Do Not Track: Phones
The problem: Cell phones are connected to carrier networks, which collect detailed up-to-the-minute records of your location so you can make and receive calls, texts and emails.
The solution: When you’re not making calls, keep your phone in a metallic box that blocks electricity and electrostatic forces and is, incidentally, also a favorite with survivalists. A low-tech low-cost option? Make your own by wrapping your cell phone in foil and sealing it in a plastic bag.
The Hackers Are Listening
The problem: Hackers can hijack the mic in your smartphone and turn it into a listening device.
The solution: When you’re not listening to music, plug your headphone jack. A low-tech solution is to cut off the tip of old headphones and insert the pin-shaped plug into the device.
Wifi Is Hostile: Avoid Unknown Public Networks
The problem: People think they’re safe when logging on to a password-protected network, but public wifi is easily hacked.
The solution: Travelers beware! Only connect to public wifi if you know it is secure.
Careful with Social: Skip Geo-Tags
The problem: Compulsive Instagrammer? Most users post most photos close to home, inadvertently making private information—such as home addresses—public. At the same time, there are entire companies whose business models are built on scraping the web for photos, analyzing the geotags and selling that information to advertisers.
The solution: Turn off geotagging when you post photos and status updates.
The problem: Smartphones, laptops and computers contain a portable goldmine of valuable personal information, catnip for identity thieves and data brokers.
The solution: When getting rid of a device, wipe it properly so personal photos and data are permanently removed. Using the built-in delete function is usually not enough, because most of the time hard drives can be reconstructed using readily available software. Use specialized services to properly delete information.
The Apps Are Watching: Skip Automatic Updates
The problem: Users configure app’s privacy settings, but those settings can change with updates.
The solution: Update each app individually and purposefully configure privacy settings so you don’t default to the most public options.
Decrease Your Digital Footprint
The problem: Data has become so valuable to businesses, many are asking for information they do not strictly need, such as date of birth and Social Security numbers.
The solution: Always question why you are being asked to hand over that information. Do not give it up unless absolutely necessary.