How to Protect Your Privacy Online: 5 Things To Do Right Now
How to Protect Your Privacy Online: 5 Things To Do Right Now
25 January 2023

5 Ways to Protect Your Privacy Online

You may have heard that your “online data privacy is at risk” but what does that really mean? Are companies or malicious scammers tracking your every move on the internet? 

Not quite. 

Is Online Tracking Bad?

The definition of online tracking is, simply, the collection of data to analyze users’ behaviors online. The data can be used to target advertisements and content, so search engines can deliver relevant information to you. That can feel creepy to some people. On the other hand, imagine walking into a shopping mall or library that’s been completely customized to suit your personal preferences. That’s kind of what online tracking does; it matches consumers with information, goods and services that they specifically want.

There’s also the phenomenon of dynamic pricing, which we cover in a separate post. That’s when companies use cookies to adjust prices based on your activities online.

Of course, with the good comes the bad. Scammers can use technology for nefarious reasons, which we cover in another post called 4 Places Your Internet Privacy is Vulnerable

Cookies and trackers

According to the Federal Trade Commission, most websites use files called cookies to customize your browsing experience. Cookies can either be first-party or third-party. 

A first-party cookie is a cookie placed on your browser by the website you visit. For example, if you use Facebook or Twitter, those websites will place a cookie on your browser so next time you visit these sites, it remembers your username and password to automatically log you in. Weather and news sites will place a cookie that has your location and interests in it so it displays information relevant to you. 

Cookies can also be used to gather specific data about you by other companies. These are called third-party cookies. Analytics or advertising companies will place a cookie on your computer to see the websites you visit, what you look at on those websites, and how long you spend looking. You will then receive targeted ads for products specific to you, or the company will analyze your data to change how they operate their website. 

The FTC points out that some applications on phones and computers may also collect information about you to use with advertising. 

If you don’t feel comfortable with how companies are tracking your online data, what can you do about it? There are settings on your devices that put you in control of what others can track online. 

1. Opt Out of Information Trackers

Some applications and websites will give you the option to opt out of collecting and sharing data about you. The Network Advertising Initiative offers free opt-out tools that can stop sites from collecting data. If you do this, you may receive fewer targeted advertisements. That said, you will still receive advertisements that may just not be relevant to you. 

2. Regularly Check Your Privacy Settings

Most browsers will allow you to clear or delete cookies that are stored by websites. Google Chrome and, by extension, OneLaunch’s browser, will allow you to clear your cache of cookies by selecting the three-dot menu (top-right corner) and select > More tools > Clear browsing data. In this menu, you can choose to clear only cookies and/or other site data. 

Most smartphones will notify you if an application wants to access different parts of your phone. For example, an app may want location data in order to find restaurants near you. However, if you’re not comfortable with an app doing this, you can disable location tracking or other data tracking. 

3. Turn on Private Browsing Mode

If you’re concerned about your browser tracking specific things you’re looking up, or you’re concerned that a site is censoring certain results based on stored cookies, you can use private browsing mode on most web browsers. Google Chrome, for example, has Incognito Mode that will not store any of your browsing histories or use existing cookies when displaying web pages. This can be useful for getting more accurate or broader search results on sites like Google because the results are less tailored to you. 

4. Use an Adblocker

If you want to cut advertisements out of your browsing experience entirely, consider downloading an adblocker. Adblockers will prevent pop-ups, ads embedded in the sidebars of websites, and ads displayed before YouTube videos. Most ad blockers can be found on add-on sites specific to your browser. Chromium browsers can select the puzzle icon on the top right-hand corner to see browser extensions that are enabled. This will allow you to search for additional extensions, such as ad blockers. Some times will not allow you to access their content, however, if they detect that you’re using an ad blocker.

5. Don’t Overshare Online

It goes without saying, but it is worth repeating: Don’t share anything online that someone could use against you. 

Social media applications have options for sharing details about your lifestyle and interests. This can be a great way to connect with friends, family, and people you don’t even know you have things in common with. However, it can also be an avenue for solicitors and scammers to find out information about you. Common security questions used by banking sites, like the name of your first pet or childhood home street name, may unintentionally be answered by a social media post you make.

Set your social media settings to private, so that only the people you are connected with (which, we hope, are people you actually know) can see your information. Unless you are a business or an online influencer, there are few reasons to share your private information with the world. 

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