Online Safety: The Need of the Hour

We’d be forgiven for thinking the online world is a scary place.

Sure, the internet has impacted our lives in amazing ways, but there is a dark side just like with everything else. But because we’ve been so eager to dip our toes into the countless benefits that the internet brings (being able to communicate with anyone, anywhere is pretty priceless), we’ve lost some of our personal privacy along the way. It’s a kind of exchange – we let you do this in exchange for this information about yourself. This isn’t about to stop anytime soon. We like the freedom to contact someone on the other side of the world with the click of a button. We like being able to next-day-delivery something we’ve coveted for all of five minutes. We like being able to read our favorite news stories without having to shell out for a hard copy. Handing over our data for online freedom is the price we pay. Everything we do on the web leaves a digital trail that can be swept up and used by corporations and governments. The problem is in the transparency of it all. Legalese in tiny fonts that are unreadable with the naked eye pulls the wool over users’ eyes. We want to sign up for Twitter so we can see what everyone’s saying about the latest celebrity scandal, so we blindly tick the “yes” box without really agreeing to have our data scraped through and sold on for who knows what purpose. Giving away even the tiniest snippets of data about yourself can leave you at risk from less-than-stellar companies, but there are steps you can take to limit how much data is siphoned from your internet activity. If you’re not tech-savvy and don’t know how to navigate the ins and outs of the World Wide Web:

  • Encrypt Your Email: Email is not going anywhere anytime soon. In 2017, more than 270 billion emails were sent, a number that’s set to increase to 320 billion by 2020. We hear all the time about email accounts getting hacked, and this form of online communication has been hailed as the absolute worst for security. This is because a single email message gets passed around several different servers before it reaches its final destination. You can keep the content of your messages private with encryption. Some email providers already offer this as standard, but for others, you might need to download an add-on or a plugin. When it comes to the metadata that accompanies your emails though (the sender, receiver, timestamps, etc.), there’s nothing you can do as the Internet routing system needs this information to do its job.
  • Hide Your History: We often get sucked into a wormhole on the internet and find ourselves knee-deep in cute cat videos when all we wanted was to find a review for the new washing machine, we’ve got our eye on. It’s hard to believe that anyone would be interested in the meandering trail we took to get to the cat videos, but this information can be used by companies to know what sites we visit the most and how we get from one to the other. This log of sites you visit is known as your “clickstream”, and you can take a look right now at the online journey you’ve taken over the past day by simply clicking “History” and then “Full Browsing History” when your browser is open. This information isn’t private unless you always browse the web in Incognito mode so the sites don’t retain your Cookies (watch the video below to understand what Cookies are), or to download a free tool that obscures your clickstream.
  • Leave Your Location Out of It: There’s something thrilling about checking into a new place, whether we’re humblebragging about visiting the latest high-end restaurant or simply want people to know that we’re out there having fun. But location data can be incredibly valuable if it falls into the right hands. Think about it: not only are you providing information about where you are and what you’re doing there, but you’re also handing over data like what time of day you like to do that activity, and you’re even giving nearby locations the chance to target you with ads while you’re in the vicinity. The answer here is simple: turn off your location when you don’t need it and avoid using sites that require you to “check-in” or need location information.
Protecting online data is a big concern for most internet users, but for the tech-phobic, it can be truly terrifying, especially if you don’t even know how to start protecting yourself.