16 Ways to Improve Online Privacy
Let’s learn how to improve online privacy. Everywhere you turn, there’s another article about a data breach with some company with which you have done business, or a social media platform you frequent, or the doctor’s office, or any number of other entities that have your information. It’s impossible to live in today’s world without having some of your information circulating “out there”, but there are some definite steps you can take to reduce your visibility, protect your privacy, and avoid scams, phishing, viruses that can collect your data from your computer without you even knowing it, and hackers. Perhaps you’ve gotten the dreaded ransomware popup on your screen, demanding that you send $300, or $3000 to some offshore company to get a code to release your information. Blam. Right in the middle of your busy day, now you have to deal with that.
Here are some ideas that you can, and should take to protect your online identity. Most are very easy, some take a little more effort, but all are worth it. So far (knocking on wood right now as I write this) these tips have protected my family and all of our computers from these possibilities, and we are always working toward additional steps to thwart attacks.
First, let’s talk about that ubiquitous device, your smart phone, otherwise known as your personal let-me-pay-you-to-spy-on-me device. That’s right, your device spies on you all the time. Much of this can be prevented if you take the steps listed below…. Now, this is not an exhaustive list, and some of the functions on your smart phone might be considered important, especially if you’ve never learned to read a map, and reply on electronic GPS. Just take a moment to consider that you are giving away your location every moment of every day, possibly having private conversations recorded even when you are not on your phone, and providing big data-brokers with an endless supply of revenue while you pay them to spy on you.
Stop doing that.
1. Secure Your Smartphone – Turn It off
Turn off your phone when you are not using it. Even better, once it’s off, place it in a mylar bag, or one of those emp-proof phone pouches that block the signal. This is almost as good as leaving it at home, locked in a Faraday cage, with a dead battery.
2. Disable Location Settings
Turn off your location settings. If you have a smart phone, you should already know how to do this, but if you don’t, THIS LINK can show you how with your Android device. And THIS LINK if you use an iPhone.
3. Log Out of Your accounts
Log out of your Apple account, if using an iPhone, or your Google account, if using Android. Even better, never log into your phone with one of these in the first place. I use an Ulefone Armor that has never been logged into Google. This was after I canceled all of my Google (gmail) accounts. Every. Single. One. However, I did sign up for a dummy account, with a fake name, for one purpose, and one only. I’ll get to that in a moment.
So, the obvious question is, “how do I download apps from the Google Play store if I do that?” That’s easy. You don’t. However, there are alternatives, at least with Android (not so much with Apple) where you can download and install most of the apps you would want anyway with alternative software. The apps are called APK files, and THIS LINK can help you with that. The only nuisance I have is with my banking software, because they don’t publish APK files, so I have to use the aforementioned dummy account on a different device, that never travels with me, and is always logged out of that account unless I have to update my banking app, to download the updated app, then convert it to an APK file. TL;DR – this is probably more than most people would care to do. So, just log out of the damned phone and turn off access to your microphone, camera, location, photos and contacts except for those apps that you absolutely must use them for (like the actual phone part of your phone).
Whew. Do those things, and you will make great strides toward your privacy. However, that’s not all. Do you use Facebook and Twitter? Okay, then you can pretty much throw out any expectation of privacy altogether. There is one thing that will mitigate the data and location issue while you use these “services”, and I’ll get into that momentarily.
4. Secure Your Home Network
Now, let’s talk about your computer at home, and your home network. When you boot your computer, it automatically logs into your internet at home, and that’s great. Except that the moment you log on, any apps that run in the background, or your web browser, and every site you go to knows exactly where you are, and what you are doing. Nice.
5. Turn Off Your Microphone and Camera
Are you using Windows? There are evidently Windows services that also detect and record (and upload) your location, can record your built-in camera, and your microphone. Disable them. Here’s one helpful link.
6. Run a Virus Scan and a Malware Scan
If you haven’t been careful, and even if you have, you could also have malware, spyware, and any number of other nasty things going on that not only share your location and your data, but might even use your computer processing power to mine cryptocurrency. Computer slowing down? Any of these could be the culprit. I say evidently because I do not use Windows for anything critical or work-related. I actually run a Virtual Machine running Windows 10 on my laptop for exactly two purposes… one is a piece of scientific software and the other is radio-programming software. I work extensively with my computer, and even given everything for which I use and need my computer, only these have no alternative option in Linux.
7. Switch to Linux
There is probably nothing I can say to convince most of you to scrap Windows and switch to Linux, even though you should. What is Linux? Linux is an open-source operating system that runs your computer. In fact, every time you open your web browser and visit a web site, you are making use of Linux software. Do you know how many of the top 500 supercomputers in the world use Linux, as of 2021? That’s right, ALL OF THEM. Interested? Sometime, when I’m not busy using my Linux computer to maintain websites, research articles, and shop at Books-A-Million, I’ll write a great article about switching to Linux. Stay tuned.
8. Back Up Your Data
Also, spend $120 on a high-quality, external hard drive, and back up all of your photos, documents, videos, and email to it. Do it regularly (I mean, once a week, every week without fail). Most removable devices come with software built-in to assist with backups. There are also software programs that can do this for you at the click of a mouse. When you are not backing up your data, disconnect the drive. I might also suggest disconnecting your internet connection while you perform the backup. This way, if someone does get past your firewall, and your security, and installs ransomware on your computer, you can tell them to pound sand, reformat your drive, and reinstall your operating system and your documents. This is also good practice since hard drives will eventually fail, and recovering data from a bad drive is quite expensive.
9. Turn On Your Firewall
This one is self-explanatory. If you are using Windows, here’s how. For Mac users, try THIS LINK. If you are smarter than the average bear, and you are using Linux, you know that the firewall is not on by default. Here’s how you do it with most Ubuntu-based distributions.
10. Use a VPN
In the meantime, let’s talk about network security. A VPN is a Virtual Private Network, and what it does is simple. All of your internet traffic is encrypted before it leaves your computer, travels through the Virtual Private Network somewhere other than where you live, and is decrypted at the other side. This gives you the security of knowing that no one can intercept your internet traffic, spoof the website you are trying to visit, or steal your date while in transit. It also prevents your Internet Service Provider, or ISP, from knowing and recording which websites you visit. In other words, it provides you with a very effective level of privacy.
We use NordVPN, but there are several good companies out there, including ProtonVPN, which is run by Protonmail. It’s less than $4 per month, and if you don’t know about it, learn. Visit the links provided above. You can install either on your computer, your phone, or even your router, if you have a lot of devices and computers. They have additional protections, including a “kill-switch” which stops all internet activity in the event that the VPN server you are connected to suddenly drops. Sign up for one of these services today. Now. Finish this article AFTER you have done this.
11. Use a Different Web Browser
Which web browser do you use? The web browser is the software you open to surf the web. Some still use Internet Explorer, most use Google Chrome, and many use Firefox. So, which browser do we use? Brave Browser. It is open-source code built on the Chrome framework, and is far superior to Chrome or Firefox. Plus, it appears that Firefox may have moved to the dark side of political life, and is actively working to censor websites that do not meet the criteria for being properly woke and politically correct. So, we removed Firefox from all of our computers and primarily use Brave. It is also much faster than Firefox. A very good idea is to set Brave to open with Private Windows. This only becomes an issue if you need to download files from the web… they won’t get saved if you use the private browsing mode. Also, private mode does nothing to protect your privacy if you are not also using a VPN. Another very good browser to try is the TOR browser, which routes your traffic through a number of nodes to improve security. Again, don’t use this without your VPN enabled.
12. Switch to a Different Email Service
How about your email service? As I said above, I canceled all gmail accounts. We now use Protonmail for anything important. Is it free? Yes, for limited services, but they can offer this because they have some outstanding paid services that are quite affordable. You have likely heard of Protonmail by now, and you should sign up, and close any accounts you have with gmail, Yahoo, hotmail, etc., because these services are ransacking your mail and selling it to big data.
13. Cancel Your Big-Tech Social Media Accounts
Social media is another privacy monster. Close your big-tech accounts. Just do it. If you cannot chat with your grandchildren except by using F*******, then stop sending them money until they learn to use Gab, usa.life, Mewe and Minds. Mike Lindell is starting Frank, and President Trump is also launching his own network. Telegram is also a fantastic service, and Wire is great for secure text, voice and video messaging. All have both free and paid accounts, and you can choose if you need the added perks of the paid services.
14. Change Your Behavior
Let’s talk about online behavior. This is really the biggest issue, and if you’ve gotten this far into the article, remember that you control how much information you provide. Because there have been so many data breaches, and because there are so many bad actors out there, having long, crazy passwords seems to be necessary for every site you shop at or log into. A couple of ideas. First, as you know, with Firefox, you are asked if you want it to save your passwords. This is a nice feature and relatively secure. Brave Browser has the same feature. Use it. Also, don’t use simple passwords, like 12345, or password. Most sites now require you to use an upper case, a lower case a number and a special character. Never, never use the same password for more than one site, because one of those sites will get hacked, and your password will be sold on the internet. If they only get one unique password, then your other accounts are safe. We like pass-phrases, like a string of unrelated words separated by dashes. These are easier to remember, and impossible to guess. Try to have at least 15 characters. If you write them down, keep that information safe. Don’t save them as a plain text file on your computer. You might save them as a file, then zip the file requiring a password that you can remember but no one else can guess.
15. Scams and Phishing
Additionally, be wary of scams and phishing. It is very likely you have gotten an email that looks like it came from your bank, or somewhere you shop, asking you to log in to your account. DON’T DO THAT. If you receive a suspicious email, or even if it doesn’t seem suspicious, open your browser and log in the way you normally do, but never, ever click on a link from an email. If you mouse over the link, the url (web address) should appear somewhere in one corner of your email window. Observe it carefully, and proceed with great caution. Even with this measure, the attacks can slip by. Better to just never click on an email link, especially from a bank, or a major shopping site, because they may not be real.
16. Don’t Visit Bad Websites
Lastly, when you visit a website, images from that site download to a cache file on your computer. Use wisely your power of choice. Do not go to or support websites engaged in amoral or illegal behavior.
Support good, wholesome businesses, businesses that neither show you questionable images, nor sites that censor your free speech. This is just good practice. Be wary of cryptocurrency sites. You may be into cryptocurrency…certainly a matter of personal choice, but be watchful and use an abundance of caution. Some sites may install mining software directly onto your computer without your knowledge.
…and of course any crypto you have will be worthless if the grid goes down… just sayin’.
There are many out here who are working toward an alternative economy, one where freedom is the mission. We look forward to being a part of it with you.