9 Ways to Maintain (Some) Privacy on Social Media and the Web

Mike Johansson
Mike Johansson Lecturer at Rochester Institute of Technology and principal at Fixitology, RIT and Fixitology

Posted on October 14th 2013

9 Ways to Maintain (Some) Privacy on Social Media and the Web
Online privacy can be hard to maintain

Privacy and social media might seem to make odd bedfellows and recent moves by some of the biggest online companies might make you think any privacy on social networks and the Internet is impossible.

This month alone: Facebook has removed another privacy setting and Google is alerting users to a change in its terms and conditions that allows your image and name to appear in Google ads. This, in October, the month Homeland Security has declared National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Not to mention the ongoing concerns about mass surveillance of online activities carried out by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and its international partners. All the while, corporations are eagerly tracking data regarding your browsing habits and purchasing preferences.

So what, dear Web Wanderer, can you do to protect some shreds of your privacy on social media and elsewhere on the Internet?

9 Ways to maintain (Some) Privacy

1. Sign in and out of your online accounts: Yes, it’s convenient to have a computer remember passwords and other login details, but you’re playing with fire. At the most basic level it means anyone can sit at your computer and "be you" on your networks. At a more sophisticated level anyone who does hack into your computer now has access to your accounts. So, logout when you’re done and log back in each time …

2. Be a "Friends Only" kind of Facebook user: Understanding your FB settings may take 30 minutes one day, but it will be the best half hour you spend on yourself on the social network. Remember that anything other than the "Friends Only" setting means people you don’t know can see and share a lot about you. You also should be aware by now, but some apparently are not, that Facebook’s default is to set all of your privacy settings to "public."

3. Use a password on your devices: If you’re not using a password to get into your smartphone or laptop etc. that’s the equivalent of leaving your apartment or car unlocked. Think about the treasure trove of personal information now stored on those devices. Maybe, just maybe, someone finding your device won’t take advantage, but maybe not.

4. Turn on 2-step Authentication in Gmail: This means that in order for your Gmail account to be accessed from a new device, a person needs a code that's texted to your cellphone. So, even if someone gets your password somehow, they won't be able to use it to sign into your account from a strange computer.

5. Encrypt everything: Whole-disk encryption of computers isn't a bad idea. If your laptop is lost or stolen, it's nearly impossible for anyone else to get into your data without your password. The latest versions of Apple's iOS automatically encrypt the entire smartphone or tablet if a passcode is enabled. On Android devices, encryption is an easy option in the Settings menu.

6. Clear your browser history and cookies regularly: Consider changing your browser settings so that the cache is automatically cleared every session. Go to the Privacy setting in your Browser’s Options and tell it to "never remember your history." This will reduce the amount you’re tracked online, although a recent New York Times story – Selling Secrets of Phone Users to Advertisers – shows that the growing field of anonymous data tracking may eventually make this a moot point.

7. Review the apps that have access to your social media accounts: Regularly review which applications have access to your social media accounts. Revoke access for applications you no longer use. In future: make sure applications you download use social media carefully. If they ask for your contacts and to post to your account don’t agree to this lightly.

8. Get an app that you can use to remotely wipe your device if it is stolen or lost: Some of these apps can show where the thief took your phone and can erase all the data. All of them allow you to do this from a separate device.

9. Put a Google Alert on your name: Go to Google Alerts enter your name, and variations of your name, with quotation marks around each. Select how frequently you want alerts (daily is probably fine for most of us) and where you want them sent. It’s the easiest way to stay on top of what's being said about you online. Just be aware: it may only catch 85 to 90 percent of mentions and some alerts may take more than a day or two to get you. But it is free.

Other ideas:

Five ways to stop the NSA from spying on you (from the Washington Post) offers ways to thwart the agency's snooping.

Strategies People Use to be Less Visible Online is a story from the social media news aggregator Mashable. It finds that "64 Percent of American adults protect their online identities by clearing cookies and browser history" and has a useful chart listing all of the other tactics its survey respondents said they practiced.

In the future:

Imagine a small box sitting next to your computer that encrypts everything you do online. That’s the principle behind a device call the Don’t Snoop Me Bro Tunnel that I first read about recently on the Bit Rebels site. The DSMB will be (when it is available early next year) an out of the box plug-and-play technology that connects to your computer and claims to completely camouflage your online presence. The Bit Rebels story linked to here has a full description and demo video.

So, there you have a few ideas that might help you hang onto or gain back some shreds of privacy. Of course, the ultimate road to privacy is to stay off the web altogether and to erase all past history on the web … yeah, right! Like that is going to happen.

What do you think? Can you maintain some privacy and still engage on social media and the Internet?

Possibly related posts:

10 Tips for Social Media Beginners
A New Online You

Mike Johansson

Mike Johansson

Lecturer at Rochester Institute of Technology and principal at Fixitology, RIT and Fixitology

Mike is a strategist and teacher who helps businesses and students understand and get the most from social media. He currently is a Lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Rochester Institute of Technology where he teaches advertising, public relations and journalism (all with a social media twist). 

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Comments

Since writing this post another big change has hit if you are concerned about online and social privacy. The app Snapchat prided itself on having its messages disappear after a few seconds. But as of today a new app called SnapHack allows people to keep and retransmit messages from Snapchat. Read more at Business Insider - http://j.mp/SnapHack 

These are great tips, Mike. I know that many find logging in and out of so many platforms or systems to be exhausting (and I fall into that bucket sometimes!), but it really is so important. Hackers are only going to get better and as we've seen, can compromise many people in a short time. Thanks for stressing the importance! 

Thanks for sharing these tips Mike.It's very important to know how to protect ourselves when we are on the web. Even if we don't have important files in our computer or devices,we have to make sure that our devices are free from viruses.

" What do you think? Can you maintain some privacy and still engage on social media and the Internet? " I would want to ask that question to those people that talk on their cellphone about their personal lives while shopping in a store & not caring who hears them.. I personally don't want to hear other peoples personal business & some of it is truly personal.. How can people be so concerned about internet privacy yet not be concerned or considerate about 'strangers' hearing their cell phone conversations while out in public ? Oxymoron IMO.. That would also be my objection to using cell phones on airplanes, I'm not interested in hearing other peoples 'private' business..