Is somebody watching you?
Have you ever felt that you’re exposed to the internet?
That whatever you do, every step that you take, is being dogged by someone who’s on your trail?
If you’ve ever felt it, then you’re not alone.
While it’s true that in the 21st century, much of our lives are lived virtually, even there we aren’t free from the prying eyes of Big Brother.
Just think: Facebook knows where your friends are, Google reads all the email you sent, and your ISP know how long you stay at this particular website.
Everything is being logged, analyzed, and monetized.
In fact, with the recent fiasco about Google collecting user data even in incognito mode (it should be private), things have just gone over to a new level of surveillance.
Just hearing about it gives me the creeps.
And not just that. If you think about it carefully, such logging of all online activities is essentially a breach of our well-deserved privacy.
Everyone has the right to move freely in cyberspace, without fear of having to live under watchful eyes.
Where convenience comes at the expense of privacy had become the norm, this is when we give up on our liberty and rights.
That’s why today I’m going to share these 7 steps that you can take in order to minimize your online footprint.
I find the research from brooking.edu fascinating on why protecting privacy is a losing game and how to change it.
I am going to do my part here as well in trying to change the game fairer a bit.
In the following, you’ll find actionable information on what you can do to actually erase or limit traces of your online activities.
Once you’ve understood and implemented the information in the following guide, you can be sure that you’re as invisible online as is humanly possible.
Stay anonymous online is achievable, you just had to make it a habit.
So, let’s put on our invisibility cloaks and take a tour around the Web.
1. Never overshare on social
Social Media today has become the one place where we live our life.
Whether it’s our birthday party, pics of the graduation, or even our new pet, we feel the need to share it all on social.
After all, who doesn’t like getting affection, love and the latest care reaction? Well, maybe not everyone!
Trouble is, even if you don’t really care about putting up all this info on the web, cybercriminals sure do.
In fact, digital delinquents regularly comb social media sites to find personal information such as pets’ names, birthdays, and mothers’ maiden names.
All this information, when used together, can allow hackers to steal your identity, hack into your personal accounts, and even compromise the security of your online financial transactions.
What’s more, oversharing on social media can even lead to acts of virtual, and in some cases real, stalking.
So, from now on, I suggest you limit the information that you share on social media.
And when you do share, make sure it’s visible only to those in your network, those that you trust.
To ensure this, explore your social media site’s privacy settings, and choose the options that meet your needs.
This can go a long way toward safeguarding your online activity.
Here’s a good checklist on how you should manage your social media privacy setting.
2. Use the cloud wisely
One of my best friends, Brian, always boasted that he never forgets a password.
A few days back, when I pressed him for know-how, he revealed (rather proudly) that he stores all his passwords on Google Drive.
If there’s one single cardinal sin that you can commit on the web, then it’s writing down your passwords.
But in this case, the more dangerous aspect is that the passwords are being stored on the cloud.
It’s undeniable that the cloud has become one of the most useful tools that we’ve created.
Nevertheless, it must be remembered that the cloud is a volatile structure that’s still evolving. This naturally means that cloud security is still at a nascent stage.
Therefore, I suggest (and this is what I advised Brian as well), that you should never store any personal information on the cloud. These can be passwords, personal identification documents, or even pictures (a very private type).
Trouble is, we are so used to using the cloud, that we just can’t do without that functionality. Take pictures for example; most of us store photos on the cloud, and we love the accessibility it affords.
Yet there have been multiple instances where cloud accounts of eminent celebs were hacked, and their personal photos leaked online (again, a very private type).
Taking lessons from this, I think everyone should be wary of depending on the cloud for personal information storage.
Originally, the cloud was meant for data sharing and should be used as such.
3. Be wary of app permissions
The next thing that I need to talk about is app permissions, which is one of the major potential security flaws in mobile devices.
Most of us install any number of apps on our smartphones, and we use them to perform tasks ranging from personal communication, and entertainment to financial transactions.
However, whenever we install apps, how many of us take the time to actually read the entire app permissions list?
Very few, I daresay.
Yet, this is of vital importance to the safety of your device as well as your data.
When you grant app permission, this means you’re allowing the app unfettered access to that particular aspect of your device.
While some permissions are essential for the apps to work properly, many apps ask for unnecessary permissions that don’t really make sense.
Take, for example, a photography app. If while installing it you find that it’s asking for access to your contact list, be wary.
Why would a photography app need access to your personal contact list?
This might mean that the app will try to siphon off your contacts to a third party, often for nefarious purposes.
So, the next time you’re installing an app, stop a moment and take time to go through the permissions list carefully.
In case you find an app asking for unnecessary permissions, I suggest staying away from it.
For now, check all your app permissions whether it’s Android, iOS, Windows, or Mac.
4. Refine your password habits
Yep, my wise friend who stores all his passwords on the cloud.
Well, when he understood that storing passwords on the cloud wasn’t really a good idea, he shifted to a new practice.
Brian now uses the same password across all his online accounts.
It’s easy to remember, convenient to use and above all, he doesn’t need to write it down.
Also, he’s using his pet dog’s name as the password, so he thinks he’s all set for safety.
How very wrong he is!
Using the same passwords across all services is decidedly easy and convenient, but it’s nothing short of online Harakiri.
When you’re using the same password across all services, it becomes very easy for a hacker to get control of all your online accounts.
Just one lapse on your part, or a single weakly encrypted service, and you’re compromised across the board.
What, then, is the solution?
Just follow a few simple habits: for starters, use different passwords for each service you use online.
This will ensure that even if a hacker does get hold of one of your passwords, they’ll not be able to access all your accounts.
Secondly, use secure passwords that are at least 10-12 characters long, and make them a combination of alphabets, numbers, and special characters.
And please remember never to use personal info such as birthdays or pet names as passwords; as I’ve already mentioned, personal info can be easily gleaned from social media.
Oh, yes, one other thing: do remember to enable two-factor authentication for services that support it.
This will introduce an extra layer of security that’ll further protect you online.
But how can I remember so many passwords?
That’s what Brian asked me, and I’m sure many of you are asking yourselves at the moment.
Thankfully, there’s a way around that problem as well.
There are several password manager apps that can help to encrypt and protect all your passwords.
Use a reputed one and manage your passwords safely.
5. Beware of the browser
The next thing that I want to tackle is the browser itself.
Web browsers have literally become our window to the world.
However, most of these browsers have default settings that collect our private info and share it with third parties.
These can then place tracking cookies or code on our browser, which in turn follow and log our web activity.
Then, they show us those annoying ads that irritate us so much.
However, there are a few practices that you can follow in order to get over this.
Also, try to disable third-party cookies as much as possible from your browser settings. This’ll ensure that you’re not followed around the web by marketing trackers.
However, if you wish to be truly anonymous, then I recommend you use a TOR browser.
TOR browsers are specifically designed to hide your online activity by ensuring that your web traffic is bounced off of multiple sources before reaching the destination. This makes it difficult to track your movements online.
Another step that you can take to protect your online movement is to ensure that you are using a private search engine.
Google is no doubt the most popular search engine. But it’s also notorious for collecting user data.
This means that when you’re using Google, you can be sure that everything you’re doing is being tracked to a T.
There are, however, several safe search alternatives to Google.
One of the most prominent ones is DuckDuckGo, a private search engine that doesn’t log any user activity.
6. Use a VPN
Trouble is, no matter what steps you take online, you can never really be 100% certain that all your web activity is successfully protected and anonymized.
There can always be some loophole that trackers can exploit to follow you online.
So, how can you be sure that you’re completely invisible?
That’s where a VPN comes in.
Many of us will ask at this point whether we need a VPN for all of these.
If you value your privacy above all, you’ll notice the importance and start seeing the benefits of using it (other than to beat the Netflix VPN ban).
VPNs are specifically designed to encrypt all your online traffic and ensure that no prying eyes can get access to any of your private information.
At this point, it’s important to remember that while you can always opt for a free VPN solution, they’ll never provide you with the same level of protection as a premium service.
Also, not every VPN provider is the same, which means you’ll have to research well before you settle on the right one.
7. Look before you click
Finally, be careful where you click. Computers are fast devices, and we like to be quick when we use them.
However, before clicking on a link, opening an email, or downloading an app, it’s important to verify the source of the link, as well as the destination.
Unless you do so, you can be the victim of phishing scams and associated crimes that aim to compromise your digital data.
This might also involve other misdemeanors such as monetary fraud and identity theft.
What’s more, when you download software from unverified sources, you might just be inadvertently infecting your device with spyware.
The same goes for torrenting when you are sourcing files or media from unverified or suspicious leads.
These can quietly run in the background, siphoning off your personal information to malicious agents.
One of the simple steps you can take to protect against this is to never share personal or financial info on sites that don’t have HTTPS enabled.
You can easily recognize HTTPS sites by the lock symbol in the address bar.
Another trick you can try is to always hover on a link before clicking, in order to check the destination URL.
This way, you can be sure that you’re not being taken to an unfamiliar destination.
Final Words – Stay Invisible Online
In the end, I have only this to say: privacy is everyone’s right and we all deserve to maintain our anonymity online.
Using the above guidelines, you can ensure that you remain hidden on the web as much as humanly possible.
We hide not because of the bad things that we did online, but rather to keep ourselves safe from the bad.
Do remember this: nothing on the web is truly free, so don’t fall for false offers.
Use your common sense, keep your eyes open, and you’ll remain as safe as it can be.
And with that, I’ll take your leave, with the hope that when you log on next, you’ll keep the principles outlined in this guide in mind.
After all, it’s for your own good after all.
Till next time, be safe and be stealthy!
Take my simple privacy assessment quiz here for a quick run.