Digital footprint: Ways of keeping your data more private

Online privacy is a topic getting a lot of attention these days and has become a large concern among consumers. While the obvious solution is to take steps to better protect your online privacy, most of us have not taken any steps, or very few, to protect our privacy on the internet. However, this doesn’t mean consumers don’t care about privacy.

If you are unsure about where to begin to protect your privacy, there are steps you can take to help minimise your digital footprint and keep your data more private when you’re on the web:

Check your browser’s privacy settings
Today’s web browsers usually allow you to be tracked by default. But they also offer tools for strengthening your privacy while you surf, such as the ability to block cookies. (A cookie is a small file placed on your computer by a website you visit. Cookies can track your activity while you’re on that site.)

Your first action should be to explore your browser’s default privacy settings and make changes to these settings. Be aware that blocking all cookies can make your browsing less convenient, as they help websites remember you when you return, among other benefits.   

Use available tools to manage your online privacy
Privacy settings vary between browsers and can be limited in their reach. Google Chrome’s Incognito mode, for instance, prevents others who use your browser from seeing where you’ve been online, but it doesn’t prevent you from being tracked by online companies and advertisers.

Fortunately, there are online tools available that can help you control and protect your privacy:   

1. Anti-tracking tools 
Any time you visit a website, you’re being tracked. Anti-tracking software discloses all the companies that are tracking you and gives you the ability to prevent them from collecting, analysing, and even selling your personal data without your permission. Here are a few:

2. Private search engines 
Whenever you perform a search on Google, Yahoo!, or Bing, your IP address, search terms, and other personal data are being tracked. With private search engines, you can search for what you need and still remain anonymous. Some of the listed private search engines have limitations, so make sure to evaluate them yourself to see which one might suit you best. 

3. Website encryption tools 
Https provides secure communication over a network, whereas http does not. By employing one of the encryption tools listed below, websites that normally route to http are rerouted to https – should the website support https to begin with.

4. Private (anonymous) browsers 
The likelihood that you’re using Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and/or Google Chrome is pretty high. The downside of these major browsers is that your personal data is being tracked. Private browsers, on the other hand, are specifically developed to protect user privacy. Keep in mind that using an alternative browser isn’t necessarily risk-free. For example, there have been reports that many cyber criminals use the anonymous Tor network to store their malware.

5. Virtual Private Networks (VPN) 
A VPN lets you send and receive data on public networks with the privacy benefits of a secure network. Although VPN software is most often used to give corporate employees secure access to corporate information, consumers can use VPN software to more privately visit websites without exposing their personal information. Some consumer VPN clients offer free and paid access, depending on features and usage.

Online privacy is clearly a growing concern for many. But, consumers’ fears of being tracked online are more often than not out of sync with their efforts to prevent it. The fact is, taking action is always more effective than choosing to do nothing. Protecting your online privacy doesn’t require a lot of effort or money. And importantly, the time to start is now. –

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Doros Hadjizenonos
Doros Hadjizenonos works from South Africa.

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