Is Your Private Data Really Private? Here’s What To Do

We live in an era where privacy is in short supply. From near-constant reports of data breaches, we’re continually bombarded with stories of how our private data isn’t private. Let’s talk about what you can do to reclaim at least a modicum of privacy amidst this landscape.

Due to COVID-19, there are a plethora of employees that have been transitioned into the work from home setting. Hackers now have a much larger pool of victims, which is why cybersecurity should be one of the top priorities on your radar.

In the Netflix series You, protagonist and stalker/psychopath Joe Goldberg manages to construct an entire picture of a young woman’s life with a few well-placed Google searches. It’s a frightening reminder that no matter how private we may think our digital lives are, there’s always a trail of breadcrumbs for someone that’s determined enough to find.

Unfortunately, our private information and personal lives are neither as personal nor as private as we believe them to be. Our digital presence is more of a ticking time bomb just waiting for a determined hacker to come along and trigger the countdown.

For most of us, it’s unlikely we’ll encounter a Goldberg-style stalker in our lives, but that doesn’t mean we’re safe. There are hackers continuously looking to sell our financials on the black market, along with identity thieves angling to commit fraud. Ultimately, there exists a massive range of threats to our private data online.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to protect ourselves. It’s just increasingly complicated on today’s hyperconnected web. Here are a few steps you can (and should) take right away.

Start using a password manager. I’ll be blunt. It’s not humanly possible to create and maintain a strong, unique password for every single account you own. Not by yourself. A password management utility such as LastPass handles the busy work for you, requiring only that you create and maintain a single master password.

Tweak your privacy settings. Perhaps bowing to pressure from regulators, Facebook actually has a fairly robust set of levers and switches you can use to tweak your account’s privacy settings, including public profiles, friend groups, and more. LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter have similar settings, as well. While you’re at it, check old social networks like MySpace to see if there’s still data floating around on those.

Stay off public WiFi. Seriously. Just stay away. Public WiFi is a hack waiting to happen. And if you must use it, you should at the very least use a VPN, a paid one. Most free VPNs have a catch.

Use a secure messaging app. Encrypted messaging apps like Signal, Silence, and Telegram can help protect you from people who might attempt to spy on your conversations.

Pay attention to your software. There are plenty of data-leaking mobile apps out there that request permissions they couldn’t possibly need. Be sure to thoroughly read through the permissions they are requesting access to before installing any application or software.

Don’t expect “private browsing” to actually be private. It doesn’t stop your employer, ISP, the websites themselves, and other organizations from seeing your browsing history or knowing what you did. All it does is prevent cookies from being stored. If you want true privacy, consider using a browser like Tor.

Sign up for Have I Been Pwned. This website monitors the web for data breaches and notifies you if one of your accounts has been potentially involved in one.

These days, privacy seems to be in perpetually short supply. Remaining cognizant of the ways your data can be used against you is a good start if you’re to protect yourself. It might not guarantee your safety, but it’s more than most people are doing.

About the author

Max Emelianov started HostForWeb in 2001. In his role as HostForWeb’s CEO, he focuses on teamwork and providing the best support for his customers while delivering cutting-edge web hosting services.