espite the seemingly endless hack attacks, and a recent Pew study showing that Americans feel powerless to protect themselves against intrusions on their online privacy, few Americans do much in the way of adopting privacy enhancing measures.
But one privacy advocate has some advice: Do it.
“Resistance is not futile if you are not aiming for 100-percent perfection,” says Nico Sell, co-founder of encrypted messaging service Wickr and organizer of hacker conference Def Con. Here are some low-tech tips to reduce your digital footprint and exposure.
Self Censor: Search
The problem: Search engines such as Google have built their business models on selling keywords from user searches to advertisers, so searches are never private.
The solution: Don’t ask Google anything you would not be comfortable sharing publicly—with your boss, lover or worst enemy. By self-censoring, you limit the information Google can sell advertisers. For highly sensitive searches, for example, health queries, go offline and ask your doctor. Another option? Avoid searching on Google altogether, says Adi Kamdar, an activist with the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“You could also use search tools that don’t collect data about you, such as DuckDuckGo.” Looking for an alternative to Gmail? Protonmail is a freemium service offering end-to-end encryption so all your info is converted into code and protected from intruders, from when you hit send to when the email is read. It can’t access your emails, so it cannot sell your data to advertisers or turn emails over to the government.
Mess with the System: Your Data
The problem: Data brokers are building a digital profile on you to sell you targeted ads.
The solution: Send mixed messages to search engines and the data brokers who harvest information from those searches. For example, when you pull up Google Maps to find the nearest hipster coffee shop, search for something out of character. Also, limit the amount of personal information you share online including birthdays, phone numbers and addresses. If your birthday is already on Facebook, make up a fake birthday and spread it around to make it harder for thieves to steal your identity.
Eye Spy: Cameras
The problem: Cameras embedded in phones, tablets, smart TVs and security systems can be hijacked by hackers and turned into spy-cams.
The solution: Cover all your inner-facing cameras with electrical tape or a sticker, easily removable for when you want to snap a pic or FaceTime with grandma.
Wifi Is Hostile: Avoid Unknown Public Networks
The problem: People think they’re safe when logging on to a password-protected network, but public wifi is easily hacked.
The solution: Travelers beware! Only connect to public wifi if you know it is secure. For an added layer of security when connecting to wifi in a hotel, restaurant, cafe or airport, Kamdar has this advice: “Use things like Virtual Public Networks and be aware of what connections are encrypted and what are not.” Alternatively, use a personal hot spot, such as a Mifi device.