As the world goes increasingly virtual, digital privacy has become a controversial topic.

Sure, it makes things easier when your favourite online retailer remembers your preferences. But when the social media platform targets you with ads about something you were just talking about, things start to cross a line.

What most people are unaware of, though, is that they have essentially given these apps permission to spy on them. It’s all in the fine print they agreed to with an update or a download.
To keep your privacy in this internet-focused world, you need to get tech-savvy. These five tips show you how to stay digital and reduce how much data your digital devices can collect.

1. Skip the Personal Data Fields

Those “About Me” settings on your social media feeds aren’t really necessary. They might help people get to know you, but they’re also giving all that data to cybercriminals.

Think about the funny memes you see floating around your Facebook feed. First car? Favourite colour? First job? Do those questions sound familiar?

If you’ve ever entered security info for your bank account or credit card, they should.

Don’t give hackers the extra help they need to access your accounts. Avoid filling out personal details that aren’t required. Think twice about downloading apps that “force” you to fill in those blanks in order to use them.

2. Check Your Privacy Settings

Billions of us are on at least one social media platform. When you set up your account, you probably assumed that what you posted was only visible to your online friends. That may be far from the truth.

Each social media network has its own privacy settings. Creating an account without changing those settings means you are using their default visibility. Anyone on the internet can see a lot of your information.

However, by going into each account and changing your settings to the most secure features, you can limit what’s available for the public to see about you.

This isn’t limited to social media, either. When you download an app or install a smart device, read the terms before you agree to them. You could be giving the app permission to access your entire computer or phone.

3. Be Careful Where Your Store Your Info

Where you store your sensitive information is crucial, too. It makes sense to use easy-to-access software like Google Drive and Dropbox. But if you don’t log out and change your password regularly and your computer gets hacked, so does your data.

If you must save your passwords so you don’t have to enter them every time, invest in a secure site to store them. LastPass and 1Password are recommended by many techs and security experts.

What other personal documents are you storing online? Photos such as your driver’s license, birth certificate, and passport scans should all be encrypted before they’re saved. Otherwise, they’re an easy game for any amateur hacker.

4. Recognize When You’re Being Tracked

Almost any time you visit a website, you get a popup warning you that the site collects cookies. To access the content, you usually have to “agree” to be tracked. That’s an obvious sign your info is becoming part of Big Data.

What you might not realize is that your computer saves everything you do, too. Your browsing history, cookies, and temporary files you open are all stored by your web browser. Surfing in private mode reduces how much data can be collected.

Each browser has a version of this as part of its privacy protection. Firefox uses “Private Browsing,” and Chrome labels its private mode surfacing “Incognito Mode.” Searching the web in this mode keeps other people from seeing your history.

This doesn’t make you completely safe, though. Your ISP knows what you’re doing, and if you’re on a work computer, your employer can track your behaviour, too.

5. Set Up a “Junk” Email and Number

It’s helpful only to have one email and phone number to remember. But what happens is anytime you give out either, you’ve merged important contacts with spammers.

It starts out innocent as you fill out a few forms for a new car or to sign up for a course you’re interested in. Suddenly, your inbox is overflowing with junk and your phone is ringing off the hook with telemarketers.

Many companies are part of a shared database of phone and email lists. When you give your information to one, thousands of others gain access to it.

An easy way to determine if a call or email is important is to set up two accounts. Only give your “real” info to people you know and trust. Everyone else can have junk accounts, and you can check on those when you feel like it.

Conclusion

Digital laws are trying but haven’t managed to keep up with the pace of technology quite yet. In the meantime, it’s up to you to protect your privacy when you’re on the internet.