Over the years, Americans have stopped taking privacy for granted, particularly in a time when we spend so much time sharing personal information on the internet. If you don't protect your privacy, you run the risk of having your identity stolen and personal details being shared with the wrong people. According to a Pew Research survey that took place shortly after Edward Snowden showed how easy it is to spy on Americans, 86% of internet users reported that they were taking steps to protect their privacy online. Nevertheless, many Americans want to know more about what options and tools they have at their disposal for keeping their personal information secure. Here are some simple and effective ways to protect your privacy.
Use a password manager.
It's never a good idea to use the same password for multiple sites and accounts. If a breach results in a hacker learning one password, they can try it on other sites you access and potentially cause you even more trouble. Instead, use different passwords for every website and application. Since it can be difficult to remember so many passwords, you should use a password manager that will do the remembering for you, as well as generate strong passwords with combinations of randomized letters, numbers, and symbols.
Enable two-factor authentication.
A number of accounts now offer two-factor authentication. What this means is that in addition to needing your password to log in, you'll also need to enter a code that the website will text to your phone. While it may seem like a nuisance to some, it helps to keep your personal information secure.
Don't completely fill out your social media profiles.
The less you share with the world wide web, the better. Set tight privacy restrictions for the social media platforms that you use, and don't fill out every little detail. Just because Facebook gives you an option to list your hometown, current location, work history, school history, relatives, and more, doesn't mean that you need to provide answers.
Consider lying when setting up password security questions.
There are enough common questions when setting up password security questions that anyone can find out this supposedly secure information. For example, if your password security question is "In what city were you born?" thieves could easily find this on Facebook or other websites. If you have the option to create your own security questions, consider doing that (as long as you can be sure no one would be able to find out this info), or just straight out lie. You can set up "accounts" in your password manager to remember the fake answers for you.
Make purchases with cash.
Most of us love the ease of swiping a credit card, but what you probably didn't expect is that companies love it too. Credit card companies will sell your purchasing data to advertisers. If you want to keep your spending habits private, choose to pay with cold, hard cash instead.
Turn on private browsing.
Most every major internet browser today offers a "private" or "incognito" browsing option. This setting automatically deletes browsing history, cookies, and temporary internet files after you close the window. You can also get a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that will let you explore the internet anonymously by routing your traffic through a series of servers, making your virtual footprint harder to track.
Be careful about handing out your social security number.
Think twice when a website requests your social security number, even if it's just the last four digits. If it's a credit bureau, the bank, or a company that wants to do a background check on you, then those are legitimate reasons to share it, but otherwise, it is risky business. If someone gets a hold of your social security number as well as other personal details such as your birthday, they could easily steal your identity. Even if it's just the last four digits of your social, that plus your place of birth makes it relatively simple to figure out the whole number. The first three numbers will be where you applied for your social security number, and the second two numbers are the same for all SSNs given out around the same time in your area.
Make sure all of your devices are protected.
Just because you trust the people you live and work with doesn't mean you shouldn't protect your phone, tablet, and computer. Make sure that all require a password to unlock. You can also install an app to help track your mobile device if it's stolen or lost. Utilize that anti-malware software and apps such as McAfee and Norton Antivirus, and make sure that you run the recommended updates!
Don't provide your zip code when stores ask.
If a store asks for your zip code at checkout, you don't have to provide it. When you pay with credit card, a store's marketing database can find out all sorts of other information about you based on your name on the card as well as your zip code. By matching the two, they can usually also come up with your email address, phone number, and mailing address which they can use for marketing purposes.