Last updated: 01 August 2017
Whether you're just worried about Facebook settings or you want to hide all your online movements, you need a privacy audit.
In an age of mandatory data retentionit's crucial to understand your privacy settings. What are you really sharing and with whom? And how do you hide what you want to hide online? Review the online services you use and work out how much of your personal information is getting out into the online world.
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So just how worried are you about online privacy? You need some level of concern because not everyone can be trusted online. Young people may not appreciate that what goes online stays online, and older people may have concerns about exposing themselves on the web.
To help guide you, we've created an easy ready reckoner for finding your paranoia level and then understanding what you could be sharing and how to protect yourself whether you're the next Snowden or just a little wary.
The thing to understand with any platform or service is that if it's free, your personal data is the currency. That goes for Facebook, Gmail and other free email services, Google and all its tentacles that follow you from a search all around the web, free public Wi-Fi, the list could go on.
The first place to start is Facebook, but the platform itself will always have dibs on your personal details. It's just the price of doing business with the social media giant. The only way around it is to avoid using it altogether or severely limit how much personal information you put into your profile, such as your school, workplace and country of residence.
If you can't kick the habit altogether, it might be worth reviewing your privacy settings. Log in and go to Settings > Privacy. Here you can restrict who sees your posts, who can contact you for a friend request and who can look up your profile. If you're worried about securing your login, under Security and Login choose two-factor authentication such as password and code, alerts for unrecognised logins and encrypted email notifications.
If you're prone to turning to 140 characters to express yourself, you might want to check your Twitter, particularly given the social media platform's changes to privacy settings. What a surprise, it's taking more of your information in the name of 'personalised' content (read: advertising and marketing using your social life as raw material) and data collection is automatically opted-in on your behalf.
Log in to Twitter, then go to Settings and privacy, then Privacy and safety. Here you can review how much of your personal details are revealed, such as your location, and set up tweet protection so you can approve who sees your tweets. To see how Twitter personalises content and collects and shares your data, go to Personalization and Data. This will tell you what personal information will be used to show you ads and even tap into the apps you have on your mobile device for targeting content.
Paranoia rating: X
If you're conducting a lot of your life online, a password manager will help securely store your passwords and potentially prevent accounts with simple passwords from being hacked. Simple passwords such as your child's name are easy to create and easy to remember, but they can leave you vulnerable to hacking. Our password manager reviews can help you find a program that will create unique, complex passwords that are securely stored so you don't have to remember or worse, write down all these passwords.
If you use Google to search the web a lot and you have one or more Google accounts such as Gmail, you're potentially gifting the search giant a lot of your private details. One way to see how much you've exposed is to review your footprint in Google MyActivity. Click on the Activity Controls tab to review your activity and see how your personal information is handled.
Paranoia rating: XX
If you think that governments around the world are giving themselves a little too much licence to access your personal movements online, it could be time to use a VPN. Virtual private networks (VPNs) help shield your web browsing, identity and location, creating a secure 'digital tunnel' between you and your online destinations. A VPN can also protect you from online identity theft while using a public Wi-Fi connection and is essential if you're doing any kind of shopping, financial or other sensitive transaction on public internet.
Not sure where to start? Our VPN reviewswill show you which services we recommend when it comes to protecting your privacy online.
A messaging app with good security is another way to protect private conversations via the net. Depending on the level of privacy you're looking for, you may want to go with a dedicated security-focused app such as Wickr, Confide or Tunnel, or perhaps one of the more popular apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and iOS Messages.
Paranoia rating: XXX
You might be plotting espionage, or you might just want to prevent government and business, as much as possible, from prying into your life online. If you fit this description, then there are a few things you won't want to go online without.
Your privacy toolkit won't be complete without email encryption. Emails aren't usually encrypted, which means that messages and attachments in your inbox and in transit can potentially be read. Luckily there are free email encryption programs that you can use without too much trouble that will protect your messages from prying eyes. Mailvelope works with Chrome and Firefox as a plugin and can work with Gmail, Yahoo Mail and Outlook.com.
Next up in your privacy toolkit will be Tor and the Tor browser. Tor, which is short for The Onion Router, is a network of secure computers provided by individuals to help others stay secure online. It's often used by dissidents, journalists, whistleblowers and activists in countries with hostile governments to hide their activity and communications online. Tor hides the 'header' or metadata that can reveal details such as the source, destination, size and timing of web traffic. There are mobile versions for Android, Orbot, and Onion Browser for iOS. If you need to send large files securely, the Onionshare uses the Tor network for anonymity.
If you would rather leave no trace of your web activity on the computer you're using, you can go one step further with Tails. It's a secure operating system that can run from a USB drive, storage cards or DVD that encrypts all of your files, emails and instant messaging traffic using the Tor network and can just plug in and then be removed after use.
Paranoia rating: XXXX
If after all of these measures you still think your privacy isn't fully protected, you might want to consult a higher source by reading The Art of Invisibility: The World's Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data, by Kevin D. Mitnick. He was once a hacker, but has been a long-time security consultant and public speaker on issues of security.
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