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14 Signs You’re Not Protecting Your Online Privacy

14 Signs You’re Not Protecting Your Online Privacy

Ever since the Edward Snowden incident people have been paying more attention to their online security. Unfortunately, things like security are a little tougher to straighten out than most of us think, and a good deal of us have already pretty much sent away our private information to the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and various other companies. Here are some of the signs that you’re giving away more than you probably intended to, as well as some tools to protect online privacy.

1. You haven’t disabled location services on your mobile device

Android and iOS both have a system built in that allows applications to poll your location when they need to. You may have noticed this before when you post to Facebook and it says “near there” where “there” is your city name. Pretty much any device on mobile networks can poll your location whenever it wants, so most of your apps (and their companies) know where you are.

How to fix: To turn this feature off on iOS, check out Apple’s location services support page because apparently the method changes depending on which version of iOS you have. For Android, simply navigate to the phone settings, go to Location, and turn off all of the options. Do note that if you need something like Foursquare, Google Maps, Apple Maps, etc. to work then you’ll need to temporarily turn these services back on.

2. You post all of your status updates to the public

protect online privacy

    When you post something on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter to the public then everyone can see it. I mean everyone. Your friends, your friends’ friends, people on other continents that you’ve never met, your bosses, and everyone else. It’s very likely that you’ve posted some stuff you didn’t intend everyone on the planet to see.

    How to fix: On Twitter, the only way to fix this is to make your whole profile private. On Facebook and Google+ it’s much easier. Whenever you open the box to post a status update you’ll see “Public.” Click on that and change it to anything other than public and your status updates will be safe from prying eyes.

    3. Your password is terrible

    A lot of people have terrible passwords. There are people out there who still use the word “password” as their password. Okay, let me level with you: when hackers hack passwords, anything that is only lower case letters and under ten characters long is fairly easy for the hackers to figure out. In other words, if your password is less than ten characters long and contains no capital letters, numbers, or symbols then you’re in trouble.

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    How to fix: This is an easy fix because you simply need to create a better password. The best passwords have letters, numbers, capital letters, and symbols. You don’t have to do anything ridiculous. Here is a surprisingly helpful article from Microsoft on how to create more challenging passwords.

    4. You don’t use a VPN when connected to public WiFi

    A VPN is a virtual private network. VPNs allow people to connect to the internet on a private network even when connected to local WiFi. Here’s why this is important. When you’re connected to public WiFi, people can sniff data packets going through the connection. Those packets can contain things like your passwords or other private information. When connected to a VPN, it makes it much harder to sniff your packets and thus keeps your data more secure.

    How to fix: Setting up a VPN is actually pretty easy and many companies offer their services to get you surfing safely. Here is an article about VPN services that actually protect your privacy.

    5. Your cookies are telling all of your secrets

    protect online privacy

      This is a pretty difficult problem to deal with because most websites make you download cookies. You can see this in action pretty much any time you want. Go surfing for something in particular, like a new smartphone, and visit a few product pages on sites like Apple’s, HTC’s, and Samsung’s official sites. It may seem like magic, but soon all the ads you see will start showing smartphone advertisements. On Facebook, you’ll start seeing suggested posts about smartphones. Everywhere you look there are smartphone ads! It’s not magic, it’s advertising networks looking at your cookies and seeing that you search for those things. This is called targeted advertising and it’s just one example of the kind of info companies can garner from cookies.

      How to fix: To prevent this, you can simply delete your cookies after you browse the web. This may seem a little inconvenient because that means all your saved passwords and such go away, but you’ll be improving your privacy. Each browser has a slightly different method but it’s a matter of accessing your history and deleting it. Another good strategy is to use the Incognito (otherwise known as Private) mode that most browsers have. These modes automatically delete cookies and history when you’re done browsing.

      6. Your cloud data is secure until it isn’t

      Thanks to antiquated cloud data laws and aggressive law enforcement agencies, your cloud data may one day be at risk. Just ask Kim Dotcom and his once lucrative Megaupload website. You must remember that cloud storage is convenient but that data is stored on a server somewhere else and that server does not belong to you and that can bring you problems. Additionally, if your password ever gets hacked then others may eventually get access to your files.

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      How to fix: The best way to prevent this is to use a back up hard drive rather than cloud storage. Or if you would rather use cloud storage then you absolutely shouldn’t put any sensitive information on there. This one is a tad alarmist because it’s not every day that a cloud storage site is raided by the authorities, but just in case it does happen, you don’t want them having that text file with all your passwords.

      7. Your photos are giving you away

      Security experts call Facebook the world’s largest facial recognition database. When you tag yourself and your friends in your pictures, you’re essentially telling the internet what all of you look like. If Facebook sells your photo data to third party advertisers (which they often do) then who knows who has your photos and what they’re doing with them.

      How to fix: There are lawmakers working on this issue right now (supposedly) but until then it’s probably your best bet to keep your photo sharing to a minimum. Having no profile picture can be shady but having a thousand photos is just bad for your privacy. We also advise not uploading anything of you doing anything that could be construed as immoral, like party photos, club photos, or anything overly risqué. Those photos could end up as advertising photos on websites you don’t want them on.

      8. You don’t use two-factor authentication

      Unfortunately, most sites don’t use this anyway. Two-factor authentication simply means that you login twice. Believe it or not, ATMs use two factor authentication. You have to have your debit card to prove that it’s you and then you must also enter a PIN. Google allows you to use two-factor authentication and many sites do it. My bank, Kemba, makes you answer a security question every time you login. Two-factor authentication at its best.

      How to fix: Right now there aren’t many companies that use two-factor authentication so your options are very limited. Most of the big companies like Google and Facebook do and you should opt into those immediately. Popular two-step methods involve verifying your identity when a company texts or emails you a verification code or makes you answer a security question when you log in. If you can, opt into that as soon as possible. Here’s how to do it in Gmail and you can easily Google search for other sites.

      9. You have not explored the privacy settings on your social media site

      protect online privacy

        Did you know that Facebook actually has a fairly extensive suite of privacy tools? You can control who tags you, and when and where. You can stop people you don’t know from finding your profile and stop people you don’t know from seeing it. On Twitter, you can simply set your account to protected and no one can see your profile unless you follow them. On Google+, you can configure each individual box of information to determine who gets to see it.

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        How to fix: On Facebook, click the little down arrow in the top right next to your notifications then click Settings. From there you can use the Privacy tab and the Timeline and Tagging tabs to control your privacy. On Google+ simply edit any box of information and you can determine exactly who sees each box. Here’s a short tutorial on how to do this on Twitter.

        10. You haven’t been paying attention to the third party apps you gave access to on social media

        Those things could get away with murder and blame you half the time if you let them! You may only sign into an app using Facebook or Google+ once, but they keep permission forever unless you manually delete them. In many cases they’re harmless, but it takes just one app asking for permission to see your friends, your info, and post to your timeline for a spammer to take your stuff to town.

        How to fix: If you’d like to see and trim your Facebook apps, you can follow these instructions. On Google+ you can follow this tutorial. Finally, on Twitter, follow this tutorial.

        11. You don’t use tools like Disconnect

        There are services out there that help you prevent websites from tracking what you do. One such web browser plugin is called Disconnect. This totally free plugin (you can donate if you want) is available for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. It prevents over 2000 websites from tracking your internet browsing habits. This results in better privacy and since sites aren’t tracking you anymore it actually results in faster web browsing too.

        How to fix: Follow this link and get that plugin. They also have another plugin called Collusion that will actually list what sites do track you. It’s kind of cool and kind of creepy all at the same time.

        12. Your IP address is easily seen by all who want to know

        You see this link here?: Powered by Find-IP.net

        That’s your IP address along with your location, your browser type, and what operating system you run. Creepy right? Pretty much any site on the internet can grab and keep that data if they so choose. Usually it’s used for analytics, but data hounds can grab that, keep it, and know when you sign in. This problem affects everyone.

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        How to fix: We posted a link for VPN services above that work to fix this problem. When you connect to a VPN, your traffic is routed through another server and thus you’ll show up as a different IP address from a different location. If you use Firefox, an iPad, or an iPhone you can use Cocoon, which routes your stuff through an alternate IP address easily.

        13. You’re not using Tor

        Tor is a system that allows you to search the web totally anonymously. It does this by bouncing your IP from place to place so people can’t find out where you are, or if they request your info (like in that widget above with your IP in it), the information will be false. It results in slower web browsing but if you need absolute secrecy while browsing, this is the best there is.

        How to fix: You can get Tor for your computer, iPhone, iPad, and Android. For your computer, click here to get Tor. For iPhone and iPad, it’s called Onion Browser and you can get it here on iTunes. On Android it’s called Orbot and you can get it here on Google Play. If you’re on Android, you’ll also need Firefox for Android and Proxy Mobile for Firefox.

        14. You’re using an unsecured search engine

        Remember earlier when we talked about how sites gather your data and use it to send your targeted ads? Well that includes Google Search, Bing, Yahoo Search, and all the other big search engines. That’s pretty much the best way to collect user data. They see what you search for and then send you ads for those things because you’re already looking for them.

        How to fix: To fix this, use a browser that doesn’t grab your data. A popular option is using the DuckDuckGo search engine, which doesn’t track your searches at all.

        Are these the only threats to your security? The answer is no, they’re not. However, these are the biggest and most egregious out there. If you can fix these, or even some of these, then you’ll be well on your way to living a more private life on the internet. That said, there is an adage that states that no one on the internet will ever truly have privacy or security. We can only do what we can and hope what others do get isn’t important or sensitive.

        Featured photo credit: End The Lie via endthelie.com

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        Joseph Hindy

        A writer, editor, and YouTuber who likes to share about technology and lifestyle tips.

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        Published on September 25, 2020

        10 Best VPNs to Browse the Internet More Securely

        10 Best VPNs to Browse the Internet More Securely

        When it comes to digital security, public Wi-Fi networks aren’t safe enough, making it much easier for hackers to access your personal data. Whether you are studying in a library or scrolling through Facebook in a coffeehouse, it is vital to have a VPN installed on your device.

        VPNs work wonders when it comes to securing your internet connection. By creating an encrypted tunnel between a remote server run by the VPN service, they protect your personal data from prying eyes. There is a variety of VPNs available on the web, and we have collated a list of the best VPNs that stand out from the rest.

        How to Choose a VPN

        • Free trial period – Free trials allow you to try the product risk-free. The same idea technically applies to those with 30-day full refunds as well.
        • Speed – You want your VPN to be just as fast as the internet speed at home. Good quality VPNs are ones where you see little difference between those speeds.
        • Device connection – Of course, the more devices that can connect to VPNs, the better. It increases the customers’ coverage and the product’s value. You also want to consider compatibility since fewer VPNs may work for Mac or Windows only.
        • Number of servers – The number of servers determines how much capacity a VPN can handle while you are connected. The more servers there are, the more users it can handle without running into potential disconnections or slow speeds.
        • Kill switch feature – Having this feature means that your IP address isn’t exposed if the VPN disconnects for some reason. A lack of this feature is a big deal since the whole reason why you’re paying for a VPN is to hide your IP address, among other things. (Find out how to avoid getting tracked online here: Big Brother Is Watching You Online: How To Avoid Being Tracked)

        Why You Should Trust Us

        Our hand-picked VPNs are incredibly efficient and offer such distinctive features that grant you safe browsing. They outperform many VPNs in terms of both speed and security. Their primary aim is to provide you the utmost security, thus enabling you to surf the web safely and prevent any potential threat from causing harm.

        Among the best VPNs’ many unique features include split tunneling, strict logging policies, high encryption level, and availability of international servers. We have gathered them in this article to enlighten our readers and offer the best pieces of advice before you get one. Therefore, take our word for it, and if you go for a VPN mentioned below, you’d be fully appeased.

        1. NordVPN

        The most popular VPN on the market these days is NordVPN, and it’s easy to see why. It has widespread coverage, offering a selection of over 5,000 servers spanning across 59 countries.[1] Due to the high number of servers, its speed is similar to your Wi-Fi at home.

        Lifehack’s CEO, Leon, has been using NordVPN for many years and wants to recommend it for its remarkable server count in different locations with no-logs policy. The VPN perfectly works with Netflix and Fire TV stick, too.

        NordVPN is also compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux. You can download the app onto Chrome, Firefox, Android, and Mac OS. Thanks to its massive coverage, it’s easy to connect multiple devices onto these servers.

        In terms of pricing, while NordVPN doesn’t have a free trial period, they argue that their plans are considerably cheaper than those of their competitors. For example, a one-year plan for ExpressVPN costs $8.32 per month, but NordVPN only charges $6.99 monthly.

        NordVPN has a new protocol called NordLynx that is based on WireGuard with speed benefits, though it’s still under development.[2] If you’re looking for general quality and affordability, this is one of the best VPNs around.

        Buy this VPN.

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        2. ExpressVPN

        ExpressVPN is the second-best option out there for keeping your privacy while browsing the internet. Like many other VPNs here, they will encrypt your IP address, offer vast coverage, and can have multiple devices connected to their servers.

        Compared to NordVPN, while the pricing point is higher, ExpressVPN’s biggest selling point is the number of countries that their connection covers. Depending on where you are in the world, this may be the only option you have. They have fewer servers — 160, to be precise — but they make up for the low server count by covering 94 countries.[3]

        Cost-wise, your best bet is to go with the yearly plan where they charge $8.32 a month. They also have one- and six-month plans.

        Buy this VPN.

        3. Surf Shark

        With regards to Surf Shark, you can connect multiple devices to its servers, and it’s compatible with Windows, Linux, and Mac. It is also available on Android, iOS, Chrome, Firefox, and FireTV.

        Furthermore, Surf Shark can whitelist apps and sites, letting them bypass the VPN. This, along with the lines of split-tunneling, is another feature that many VPNs offer. The difference is that Surf Shark allows you to whitelist specific apps or any website, while most VPNs will whitelist all sites or none at all.

        The other consideration for this app is the price. While lower-tier plans are more expensive compared to others, Surf Shark’s 24-month plan is priced at $2.69 a month, so it’s cheaper than even NordVPN’s equivalent plan!

        Buy this VPN.

        4. CyberGhost

        Another top-reviewed VPN is CyberGhost. They’ve been around for 15 years and have fine-tuned their offers and features to stay competitive. They provide the standard package of browsing the web and logging into accounts safely and give you access to regionally blocked content.

        The network also maintains security from hackers, malware, and phishing. Aside from that, you can connect multiple devices, and it’s compatible with all kinds of platforms.

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        What separates CyberGhost from the others is their extensive coverage. They have multiple servers, and the pricing point is still very low. It covers over 88 countries and has roughly 6200 servers for you to choose from, all while charging $2.75 for their 18-month plan.

        Buy this VPN.

        5. IPVanish

        IPVanish’s prime purpose is to give users online freedom by providing fast speeds and private connections. It’s clear that they can meet that promise as they provide many of the features that have been listed previously from their competitors.

        IPVanish is a part of SugarSync now. What is that, you may ask? It’s a cloud-based service that syncs files across devices and computers for sharing, backup, and many more. What this means is that other devices can access various files and videos so long as they are connected to your specific VPN. Furthermore, it can serve as a backup plan if you get hacked or lose your device for some reason.

        Buy this VPN.

        6. Private Internet Access

        Private Internet Access (PIA) is a remarkably generous company in many ways. Aside from the obvious features, they offer great incentives and discounts for people to try out their products. They claim to be the most trustworthy and reliable VPN around, and we believe that.

        One notable thing is that PIA offers a free two-month trial. Compared to other VPNs to this point, none have provided free trials (though all come with a 30-day money-back guarantee). On top of that, small businesses can avail of their VPN at a discounted rate. There is also the fact that their pricing plans go as low as $2.69 a month for two years, and they let you pay with gift cards.

        In terms of specs, PIA has over 2695 servers that cover 47 countries right now.

        These particular aspects make PIA unique and one of the best VPNs to consider.

        Buy this VPN.

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        7. Hotspot Shield

        Hotspot Shield is all about offering protection while you’re browsing the internet or using streaming services like Netflix. The encryption is military-grade, and its speed is ultra-fast. In truth, it is even marketed as one of the fastest VPNs.

        Hotspot Shield offers a plan that only costs  $7.99 a month; however, it’s one of the few in this list to provide its services for free. Like other Freemium apps, the free version comes with limited features. That said, it gives you a much better feel for the VPN.

        Also, take note that the encryption feature is still there, though the limitations in the free plan include connecting to one location in the US and having limited streaming options and speed.

        Buy this VPN.

        8. TunnelBear

        As unusual as a name choice for an online security protection service can be, TunnelBear is nothing short of incredible. It makes our list of the best VPNs for various reasons.

        The biggest one is that the company goes through a yearly security audit. This is notable because many VPNs don’t bother about independent audits to ensure their systems are secure and safe from any issues. This is critical as VPNs have gotten some bad reputation over the years, as TunnelBear has noted in their post about their security audit.[4] The fact that they are doing this annually ensures that nothing is being compromised.

        Furthermore, TunnelBear offers limited services for free, but even their paid plans are pretty cheap. For individuals, you’re merely paying $3.33 per month. The only catch is that you can connect five devices regardless of which paid plan you pick.

        Buy this VPN.

        9. Norton

        Norton has been on the security scene for some time, and it’s actually one of the founders of the internet security industry. It started with virus and malware protection in 1991 and has since branched off to other sectors as the industry has shifted.

        As you might expect from a company that’s been around for a long time, Norton provides excellent services, and a few of their other services have gone into the VPN package. In reality, Norton is the only one thus far to offer a password manager with their VPN services. They provide 50GB of cloud storage as well.

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        Norton has one of the cheapest VPNs, considering you can get their deluxe plan at $49.99 per year. That comes up to roughly $4.17 a month. It might be slightly higher than other equivalent plans, but you get a lot of extra value that makes it worth the price.

        Buy this VPN.

        10. StrongVPN

        The final VPN we want to cover is StrongVPN. Like many others, it’s great at blocking unnecessary web traffic and providing a fast and simple solution to navigating the internet without any hindrance.

        StrongVPN has over 900 servers. It is available in more than 30 countries and compatible with all devices. Beyond that, the only notable selling point it has compared to others is that it also offers Sugarsync services and 250GB of storage, irrespective of your chosen plan.

        As for the pricing, their year-long plan costs $5.83 a month, while their month-long one is $10.

        Buy this VPN.

        Bottom Line

        Getting online protection is important these days, and companies recognize this.

        With more hacks and breaches occurring every single day, the best VPNs can provide an excellent haven for many people who value their security and privacy.

        We hope that by putting together this list, you’ll be able to find the best VPN that you can trust and enjoy using. As you can see, there are several great options with no real wrong one out there. Pick the VPN that’s best for you.

        Featured photo credit: Petter Lagson via unsplash.com

        Reference

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