Your privacy is up for grabs, but should you care? Why does it matter if companies are trading data about your Starbucks habits, your fitness routine or even your favorite weekend destination? It all comes down to control. Our current data environment creates asymmetries of knowledge and power. Who has your data? Who decides what your data is used for? Who decides who decides what your data is used for? Unfortunately, there aren’t any laws to protect us. Companies have confusing marketing messages that conflict with their own hard to read privacy policies (aka surveillance policies). If you feel powerless, out of options, or just confused on what you can do to protect what little privacy you have left, here are some steps you can take.
Use encrypted communication
The state-of-the-art privacy and security protocols are end-to-end encrypted communication platforms. Data is encrypted on the device, through transportation to the servers, and decrypted on the receiving device. This means the service - the company or network the messages are sent through - cannot access the communications, even if compelled to do so by the government; although they may still know who you are speaking to, how often, and when. The best tools to use are Signal for messaging and ProtonMail for email.
Browse the web on your terms
Firefox is the ultimate web browser for protecting your privacy online. Enhanced tracking protections block social media trackers, cross-site tracking cookies, tracking content, cryptominers and fingerprinters. In addition, Firefox is backed by privacy-first nonprofit Mozilla, putting people before profits by keeping the internet open and accessible to all. Available on all major platforms.
Search without leaving a trace
Searching is personal; let’s keep it that way. DuckDuckGo is a search engine free of trackers and doesn’t store personal information or collect your searches. Set it as your default search engine on your computer and phone to leave your search history in the past.
Keep your location yours
Revealing your location can, over time, reveal patterns and personal information about where you live, your favorite places to eat, your daily commute and more. When apps ask for your location, make it a habit of saying no - then when you really need to give your location, turn it back on - but remember to turn it off afterwards. Go through all of your apps and turn off location for the ones that don’t need it - or change the setting so they can only get your location while you’re using the app. Don’t tag your location on your posts, images, or tweets.
Turnoff Bluetooth and WiFi
While you’re not using them; they’re constantly broadcasting identifiers that are easy to track. Don’t let apps access to your Bluetooth unless they really need it. For ultimate privacy, turn on airplane mode or power off your phone to prevent your cellphone provider from tracking you.
Does that app asking for your name and address really need it? Consider using fake information. Is the website you’re on secure? Look for a padlock or “https” in the address bar.
Your new SSN: your email and phone number
Email address and phone numbers are the number one identifiers for tracking people. Consider creating a separate email address to use when entering fake information for the apps and sites that don’t need it. When asked for your phone number and you can’t use a fake one, consider if the you really need to use the service.
Take a break from social media
Facebook (also the owner of Instagram) is one of the most powerful surveillance companies. Using social media less gives them less data, which gives you more freedom and control over your life. If you can stand not using your social media accounts for a while, consider deleting them.
Every transaction you make with a card goes through at least four companies, each with different data collection practices. It only takes one company to build a profile about your spending habits. These could then be sold to advertisers to shape your behavior in their favor.
Don’t bring spyware into your home
Alexa and Google Home devices may seem fun and cool, in reality they are anything but. Some recordings are listened to by real people across the globe. These devices can analyze your voice patterns to identify you in any recording. Plus, these devices only generate more data about you to feed into the machine.
Bonus: Nuclear option
Of course, getting rid of your cell phone, not using cars with built-in GPS, and avoiding areas with cameras is the most effective way to take back your privacy. But the tradeoffs with this option is large, which is why many people don’t try.