Great results don’t always require great effort.
Maintaining your privacy online and offline can seem like a Herculean or even Sisyphean task. Never-before-heard companies with vaguely ominous names routinely boast of infringement, and every day seems to bring new privacy scandals. But here’s the thing: There are small and relatively painless steps you can take right now to protect your privacy.
As you prepare for 2022, take a few minutes to improve your life with these privacy-focused New Year’s resolutions—no gym membership required.
Your computer is the keeper of your secrets. Tax documents, bank accounts and medical records are just some of the personal files that people keep on their laptops and computers. And if those computers are ever lost or stolen, those files can easily fall into the wrong hands.
Fortunately, there is an easy way to protect yourself: encrypt your computer.
“It’s a really fantastic piece of basic hygiene safety, like washing your hands or wearing a mask, that anyone can do and it really gives you a lot of benefits.” Quintin Coopersecurity researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, explained in August.
Watching you, watching it.
Credit: Vicki Leta / Mashable
Watching TV is usually thought of as a passive activity, but this concept does not take into account all the questionable events that take place behind the screen. With smart TVs now sold by default, viewing is no longer a one-way activity.
“In addition to the risk that the TV manufacturer and app developers can listen and watch you, this TV can also be a gateway for hackers to break into your home,” the FBI warned in 2019. “At worst, they can turn on the camera and microphone of the TV in the bedroom and silently stalk you.”
However, you can mitigate at least some of the risks associated with smart TVs by tweaking a few settings.
Google Street View is extremely useful and incredibly invasive.
The tool, which gives anyone with internet access a street-level view of houses and apartments around the world, seems tailor-made for online stalkers. However, it’s also relatively easy to opt out in part by asking Google — or Microsoft with the appropriate Bing Maps — to blur images of your home.
Anyone hoping to peer into your windows digitally is out of luck.
Your phone is your phone, except when it’s not. Stalkerware is a broad term for a family of apps surreptitiously installed on victims’ smartphones that reveal all kinds of personal information to attackers.
“Stalker software can track your location, record your phone calls and text messages, steal passwords to social media accounts you log into through your phone, reveal your contacts, photos, emails, and even your end-to-end encrypted messages. “, Eva Halperin, director of cyber security at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, explained in 2019.
While you may not suspect that someone has secretly installed stalker software on your smartphone, it’s a good habit to regularly check for it. If you haven’t already, start this habit now.
Credit: Bob El-Green / Mashable
Cellular providers know a lot about you, and in the hands of exploiters, this knowledge turns into cold hard cash.
T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon share some form of customer data with third parties — often for advertising. While the specifics vary by carrier, the general theme remains the same: What should be private information, such as in T-Mobile’s case, customers’ “internet and device usage data,” isn’t so private.
Take the time to tell your ISP to stop sharing your data with third parties. After all, you’re paying them, and it’s the least they can do to protect your privacy.
Using a computer can feel lonely. This often involves sitting alone in a room, endlessly typing away in the digital void. But a type of hidden software called a keylogger that runs in the background on your personal or work computer captures these single actions.
Keyloggers, as the name suggests, record and store every keystroke. In other words, every email you write, password you type, or web search you make is stored and later shared with whoever installed the keylogger. Like stalkers, keyloggers are often a form of abuse.
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With a working computer, they are also completely legal.
“Employees have virtually no right to privacy on employer-provided computers,” Lewis Maltby, president of the National Institute for Labor Rights, explained in 2019. “Even very personal communications that would be protected if they were over the phone are not protected if the employer’s computer is involved.”
So checking your computer, whether it’s work or personal, for keyboard spies from time to time is just common sense.
If there’s ever a time when you don’t want a corporation looking over your shoulder, it’s when you’re viewing pornography on the Internet. And yet, porn sites record user data and often pass it on to third parties.
The unattractiveness of this corporate voyeurism is obvious, and yet there’s a good chance that your attempts to mitigate it are a total failure. That’s because Google’s incognito mode, which people often believe provides anonymous web browsing, does nothing of the sort. Instead, it simply prevents Chrome from doing things like saving your browsing history.
When using incognito mode, Google warns: “[your] activity is not hidden from the websites you visit, from your employer, educational institution, or your Internet service provider.”
However, there is a free tool that does just that. It’s called Tor, and you don’t need any special computer skills to use it (just remember to keep it updated!). So download and use Tor and feel safe in the knowledge that your specific pornographic preferences are a secret between you and your keyboard.