Big results don’t always require a big effort.
Maintaining your online and offline privacy can seem like a Herculean, or even Sisyphean, task. Never-before-heard-of companies with vaguely menacing names regularly brag about infringing upon it, and each day seems to bring with it 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 brace for, then settle into, 2022, take a few moments to spruce up 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 a few of the personal files people keep on their laptops and desktops. And, if those computers are ever lost or stolen, those files can easily end up in the wrong hands.
Thankfully, there’s an easy way to protect yourself: encrypting your computer.
“It’s a really fantastic bit of basic security hygiene, like washing your hands or wearing a mask, that anyone can do that really gets you a lot of benefits,” Cooper Quintin, a security researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, explained in August.
Watching you, watching it.
Credit: Vicky Leta / Mashable
Watching TV is typically thought of as a passive activity, but that conception fails to take into account all the questionable goings on happening behind the screen. With smart TVs now the default being sold, viewing is no longer a one-way activity.
“Beyond the risk that your TV manufacturer and app developers may be listening and watching you, that television can also be a gateway for hackers to come into your home,” warned the FBI in 2019. “In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you.”
You can mitigate at least some of the risks posed by smart TVs, however, and all it takes is tweaking some settings.
Google Street View is both incredibly useful, and incredibly invasive.
The tool, which grants anyone with internet access a street-level view of houses and apartments around the world, seems custom built for online stalkers. It is also, however, relatively easy to partially opt out by requesting that Google — or Microsoft with its corresponding Bing Maps — blur its image of your home.
Anyone hoping to get a digital peep through your windows will be left sorely out of luck.
Your phone is your phone, except when it’s not. Stalkerware is a broad term for a family of apps, secretly installed on victims’ smartphones, that report all kinds of private data back to abusers.
“Stalkerware can track your location, record your phone calls and text messages, steal the passwords to the social media accounts you log into through your phone, reveal your contacts, your photos, your emails, and even your end-to-end encrypted communications,” explained the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s director of cybersecurity, Eva Galperin, in 2019.
While you may not suspect someone has secretly installed stalkerware on your smartphone, it’s a good habit to regularly check for it. If you haven’t already, start that habit now.
Credit: Bob Al-Greene / Mashable
Cell providers know a lot about you, and in exploitative hands that knowledge translates to cold, hard cash.
T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon all share some form of customer data with third parties — often for advertising. While the specifics vary based on the carrier, the overall theme remains the same: What should be private information, like, in the case of T-Mobile, customers’ “web and device usage data,” isn’t so private.
Take the time to tell your provider to stop sharing your data with third parties. You pay them, after all, and it’s literally the least they can do to protect your privacy.
Using a computer can feel like a solitary act. It often consists of sitting alone in a room, typing endlessly into the seeming digital void. But a type of hidden software, dubbed a keylogger, running in the background on your personal or work computer puts those solitary actions on display.
Keyloggers, as the name suggests, record and save every keystroke a person makes. In other words, every email you write, password you enter, or web search you make is stored and later presented to whomever installed the keylogger. Like stalkerware, keyloggers are often a form of abuse.
Why you need a secret phone number (and how to get one)
With a work computer, they’re also perfectly legal.
“Employees have virtually no right to privacy on employer-provided computers,” explained Lewis Maltby, the head of the National Workrights Institute, in 2019. “Even highly personal communications that would be protected if they took place over the telephone are not protected if an employer computer is involved.”
So checking your computer, be it work or personal, for keyloggers every now and then is just common sense.
If there’s ever a time you don’t want a corporation looking over your shoulder, it’s while watching pornography online. And yet, porn websites record user data and often leak it to third parties.
The unappealing nature of this corporate voyeurism is obvious on its face, and yet there’s a good chance your attempts to mitigate it are a complete failure. That’s because Google’s Incognito Mode, which people often assume keeps their browsing anonymous, does nothing of the sort. Instead, it merely prevents Chrome from doing things like saving your browsing history.
When using Incognito Mode, warns Google, “[your] activity isn’t hidden from websites you visit, your employer or school, or your internet service provider.”
There is a free tool that does just this, however. It’s called Tor, and it requires no special computer skills to use (just remember to keep it updated!). So download and use Tor, and feel safe knowing that your specific pornography preferences are a secret kept between you and your keyboard.
Related Video: How to not get your social media hacked