The Internet has become an essential commodity in our life. We rely heavily on it to send business emails, post our selfies on Facebook, purchase things on Amazon, etc. However, each time when we are connected to the Internet and having online activities, we leave some digital footprints. For instance, when logging into a site, we may save passwords for our convenience. Yet, if this personal information is not carefully managed, our online privacy may be invaded.
Who may be watching or monitoring your online activities?
When asked who may try to steal your personal information, most people will come up with the answer – ‘hackers or cybercriminals’. However, reaching your data without your consent is not their exclusive privilege.
So, who may have access to your digital footprints?
1. Internet Service Provider (ISP)
An ISP, or Internet Service Provider, is who connects you to the Internet. Each time you connect to the Internet, your ISP will assign an IP address to you. With this address, your name and location can be identified.
As the ISP delivers your information, they know the address you are connecting to, and therefore the sites you are visiting, as well as the type of traffic you are receiving or transmitting.
You may think that you are under protection of your government’s privacy legislations. However, it is the government itself who has the right to invoke a court order to inquire your ISP to provide your personal information. According to the whistleblower Edward Snowden, governments’ privacy practices may not be as trustworthy as we believe. In some cases, governments are suspected even not to request permission to any court.
3. Advertisers and Online Service Provider
Advertisers may insert a cookie on the site you are browsing to collect marketing-type information, such as your frequently-visited sites or what kinds of products you like. Using your personal information and browsing behavior, they can precisely customize advertisements displayed to you, thus increasing the product-selling revenue.
All the bosses want their employees to be as productive as possible; visiting social networks or watching YouTube videos during working time is something they don’t want you to do. Hence, they may monitor your online activities to make sure you are focused on your job instead of chatting with your friends on Facebook.
5. Hackers or Cybercriminals
When it comes to identity theft, hackers and cybercriminals are professionals in this field. By using a bunch of tools like trojans, malware, or spyware, they can collect your personal information without your knowledge.
How to keep your privacy and safety online?
Taking the following precautions will help you reduce the possibilities of being monitored or tracked and keep your online privacy.
1. Conduct an online assessment regularly
Conduct an online assessment for your online information on a regular basis. Check documents you have stored on a Cloud space, account information saved for your frequently-visited site, or authorization granted to third party developers for Facebook games.
Are these data safely stored in those services? Who has access to the saved information? Make sure you know the answer to all these questions, so you can know how and what changes should be made to safeguard your privacy.
2. Set a strong password
Your password is the first line of your account security, preventing unauthorized access to your data. A strong password should be long and alphanumeric, meaning that it should include numbers, symbols and both lower and upper case letters. For example, ‘N7!&klsh@‘ is a good one, for it is at least 8-character long and difficult enough for others to guess.
3. Use a VPN when surfing the Internet
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, builds a secure tunnel between your device and VPN servers. All the data transmitted within this tunnel will be well-encrypted; as a result, hackers will not be able to reach your data.
Also, a VPN can change your IP address to keep you anonymous, so that governments or ISPs cannot track where your traffic is from or which sites you are browsing.
4. Delete unwanted cookies
A cookie is a small piece of code that a website attaches to your browser to track where you have been and what you have done on the web. Advertisers or some tracking companies collect browsing behavior information and sell it even without your consent. Regularly removing or cleaning unwanted cookies can help prevent your digital footprints from being tracked.
Follow these steps to reduce the risks of privacy invasion. The more precautions you take, the more you can protect yourself from scams, fraudulence, or identity theft.