10 Tips for Protecting Your Online Privacy and Identity

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These tips from the Internet Society not only can help all of us as individual consumers, but they're also useful for your library's basic computer or tech skills classes. This blog was originally published on the TechSoup blog

For a lot of us, shopping season is just around the corner. And for those of us who can't be bothered with crowded malls or lines at the register — it's online shopping season.

But before you spend time loading up your online shopping cart, take a few minutes to learn a little about managing your digital footprint and also protecting your online privacy. When it comes to your online privacy and identity — knowledge is the gift that keeps on giving. Here are 10 tips that can help from the Internet Society!

1. Get a Better Understanding of the Issues

There's a lot of information about privacy to take in. Think about the implications of what you're sharing when you sign up for new services, or install new apps.

2. Develop Your "Basic Online Hygiene" Habits

If you use one email address for home and another for work, or one credit card for online shopping and another for everything else – it will help keep different parts of your digital footprint separate.

Be mindful about what you share via social sites and elsewhere, because every selfie, retweet, or like is probably more public, and more persistent, than you think.

3. Become a Sophisticated User of Your Online Tools and Services 

Browsers, devices and apps are often set to share your personal data by default. Take a look at the privacy settings and see if you're comfortable with what the default settings are. 

When an application asks for "permission to send you push notifications and use your location data," think about if that's really what you want. Your camera and smartphone usually record your time and location in each photo you take, and when you share those photos, you could be sharing that data.

4. Find and Use Online Privacy Tools

There are many helpful online privacy tools. Use them to protect your online privacy, and to keep track of what information you're sharing as you surf. 

5. Manage Cookies

Check what settings your web browser(s) have for cookies; find your browser's "cookie store" and spend some time looking through it. Notice how many of the cookies in there have been set by sites you weren't even aware of visiting ... and then see whether your browser allows you to block third-party cookies. Some browsers offer this as an easy option, but there are also a lot of plug-ins you can use to help control tracking cookies.

6. Check Your Privacy Settings

Erasing cookies only goes so far. You should also know your rights when it comes to information that you share on websites, especially open services such as social networks, blogs, and photo sharing sites. It's a lot easier to prevent your data from being shared than it is to remove it from an advertiser database later. Check what permissions apply to content you upload.

7. Understand the Realities of Sharing Your Stuff

When you post something on the internet, it's out there forever. Deleting online content often only removes it from public view; it can be stored in archives and databases forever. Even deleting your account isn't a guarantee that your content will be deleted. It may still be accessible through other means.

8. Think About the Trade-off Between Convenience and Privacy

OK, convenience means instant gratification and privacy is a long-term intangible … but the choice is still up to you. Maybe a little inconvenience is worth it, to regain some control over your digital footprint. 

9. Understand the "Bargain" You Make with Online Service Providers

"Free" doesn't mean "free": it usually means you pay through the monetization of data about you. "Freemium" doesn't mean your data isn't monetized: it usually means you don't see advertisements in that service, app, or game. 

10. "There Is No App for This"

That's the bottom line. We can inform you and suggest some privacy tools, but the reality is that there's no one-click answer: in the long term, the best way to improve your privacy is to change your online habits. We're here to help, but you hold the key.

Want to Know More About Protecting Your Online Identity?

Watch the Internet Society's great tutorials on managing your digital footprint.

Image: Mike / CC BY-NC

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