We lock our doors and close our curtains in order to protect our privacy. Unfortunately, however, when we sit down at the computer, we often expose ourselves to those who want to invade our privacy. Our activities online are easily monitored at work and at home, and if we are not careful, we can give away our credit card numbers, identities and much more to the undesirable elements of society when we surf the Internet. Yet protecting our privacy online is not that difficult, especially when we follow these ten easy steps:
1. Create a Separate Email Address for Public Postings
Some people fear the canned meat called Spam, but there is one type of spam that is far more dangerous. Spam emails sent from unknown addresses or containing unwelcome advertisements can make us targets of identity thieves, computer viruses and more. The best way to avoid such emails is to direct them all to one address with a special email that is used only for public posting on message boards, social-networking sites and much more. The Electronic Frontier Foundation recommends that we sign up for a special email address that we hand out to unknown people and other groups about whom we know little. This keeps too much spam from invading our personal email inboxes.
2. Understand Workplace Monitoring Practices
Many employers monitor everything their employees do online. Employers and IT departments can “look over our shoulders” electronically to see the websites we visit and so forth. Thus, if our Internet activities are monitored at work, co-workers are likely able to invade our privacy. This extends even to email. Those of us who need to write an email that they do not want the boss to read would be better off to write it at home than at work.
3. Use a Firewall at Home
A home computer with an always-on DSL or cable connection is to computer hackers what a wide open front door is to thieves. Fortunately, we can close this door when we install a firewall and/or turn off our computers when they are not in use.
4. Consider Getting a Temporary Credit Card Number
If we are afraid that our spouses will take our credit cards and spend us into oblivion, we should also be afraid that someone outside our families might do the same. Every year, hackers break into businesses’ databases and steal the credit card numbers and identities of the businesses’ customers. One of the best ways to keep ourselves from becoming victims of such identity theft, says CNET, is to use temporary credit card numbers when we shop online. Such numbers can often be obtained from our existing credit card companies, and their predetermined spending limits can keep a thief from destroying our credit scores.
5. Take Care with Social Media
Social-networking sites are an increasingly popular way to keep up with friends and family. Unfortunately, much of what we put on social media can be used against us. A full birth date with month, day and year can make us easy targets for identity theft, so it is best to leave the year off the birthdate when composing a social-networking profile. It is also important to be careful about posting pictures online. That keg party might have been a lot of fun, but potential employers or parents might see it if it is posted on a social-networking profile.
6. Vary Usernames and Passwords
The Daily Beast recommends that we not use the same username and password combination across several different websites. Those who follow this rule can be sure that they have not given thieves access to all of their accounts if said criminals somehow figure out the username and password to one of these accounts.
7. Make Passwords Hard to Guess
Varying usernames and passwords across all the sites we join is not enough. We should also make our passwords hard to guess. It is important never to use the names of family members, birthdays or other facts that others might know. Also, we should include a variety of letters, numbers and special characters when we establish each new password. The more unusual a password, the more difficult it will be for someone else to guess said password and invade our privacy.
8. Understand a Website’s Terms of Service
Most e-commerce sites, social-networking sites and other sites that require registration have a terms of service agreement that must be signed. These agreements explain what these sites will do with personal information and whether it can be sold to others. Those of us who are very concerned about our online privacy, should never sign an agreement that makes it easy for a site to make personal information available to other people.
9. Keep Social Security Numbers Private
Our parents always taught us to keep our hands to ourselves, but in this day and age, it is even more important to keep our Social Security numbers (SSNs) to ourselves. The Christian Science Monitor recommends that individuals never give a SSN to a website unless they are absolutely sure of the site and its security. Unless we happen to apply to a college or sign up for a financial product such as a bank account, a site should probably not be asking for a SSN anyway.
10. Make Use of a Browser’s Privacy Features
There are a lot of security software programs, pop-up blockers, and so on that we can download and install in order to help safeguard our privacy online. However, many privacy tools are likely found in the browsers we are already using. Top-of-the-line browsers will allow us to block and manage cookies, prevent certain advertisers from putting ads on the pages we visit, keep others from viewing our web surfing history and so on. Those who become conversant with their browser’s security features will protect themselves better when they go online.