How to Protect Your Privacy Online?

“Today, apps, services, and organizations deliver convenient, predictable, tailored experiences that depend on control of identity-bound data.” – Ankur Patel of Microsoft’s Identity Division.

In the hyperconnected world we are in today, information can be accessed and acquired easily with a mouse click. The effects of over-dependence on technology include bridging the gap between work and social life. However, the downside of this convenience is that it does pose a threat to people’s privacy. Privacy is considered a rare commodity today, and the recent COVID-19 global pandemic has seen government bodies implementing various technologies in contact tracing. This involves a pervasive form of privacy intrusion, and the mass surveillance will only worsen after the outbreak. At the same time, it remains to be seen if the assurances that these tech companies claimed to preserve individual privacy with such applications, a growing number of people are wary of them and are seeking ways to use the internet with caution after repeated leaks of personal data over the last decade.

As more people grow their reliance on the internet, everyone will be susceptible to online fraud, attacks, cyber-bullying, data breaches, and even tracking. Thus, learning to protect our privacy is crucial to the self-preservation of personal identity and activities. Fortunately, all hope is still possible, as there are still several approaches for various online processes that many could perform to control one’s data.

Strengthen your privacy in cryptocurrency transactions.

Cryptocurrency and Blockchain have made huge strides on their route to disrupt the financial system, surmounting various problems in the existing financial system. Thus, it is understandable that there are many opinions revolving around their legitimacy and reliability in the face of today’s world. While it is commonly known for Blockchain and cryptocurrencies to protect user data with its immutable and transparent protocols, complete anonymity and privacy with most cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin remain to be seen, as such focus has yet to be implemented at the start with most of these blockchains. This is why top privacy coins such as Monero and ZCash are created: to add layers of protection for their users.

Popular pseudonymous cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH), still dominate the cryptocurrency market due to their high volatility and high return on investment (ROI). Therefore, several methods tackling the lack of privacy in cryptocurrencies have been introduced to hide user identities and transactions. Most of these methods use encryption, like The Invisible Internet Project (I2P) or Bitcoin mixer in the Tor network. Others utilize cryptography methods like zero-knowledge proofs or address scrambling methods to maintain anonymity.

Data Security using Blockchain

In October 2015, The Economist published an article explaining that Blockchain has valuable applications beyond the financial system and that grassroots organizations could use Blockchain to undermine big tech companies like Google and Facebook.

Users today know that most internet services collect and store user information on centralized servers, risking the information as a target for hackers’ infiltration and theft. One viable approach that internet services could deploy is decentralizing data control via the Blockchain, thus reducing the risk mentioned above. A decentralized system works in a trustless environment, meaning users no longer need to trust individual entities with their private data. All personal information requested by the service providers will be hosted on a distributed ledger, making the data more private, secure, and unhackable.

Therefore, adopting Blockchain could completely change how the internet works, with users benefitting the most in the process, as their data will no longer be at the mercy of centralized servers.

Incognito web browsing

Today, users can stay anonymous online using the first line of defense against online attacks. According to Wikipedia, more than half of the world’s population is connected to the internet. Most, if not all, users have utilized web browsers to access information online. Web browser companies have acknowledged that since their applications act as a gateway to the wealth of information available for the users, they have introduced private browsing, or incognito mode, as an option for users that favor personal privacy while browsing online. Private browsing enables users to block cookies, so most online tracking is defeated. However, it is worth clarifying that such options may have limitations as they only add an extra layer of protection and do not complete online privacy. Thus, for those privacy-conscious users, using multiple privacy tools as the best anonymous search engines to strengthen privacy protection is recommended.

Virtual Private Network (VPN) and visit Certified Sites

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) creates a private network across a public network by connecting users to the internet through another server. This further encrypts the connection, disallowing third parties to access your data. In addition, a VPN hides user IP addresses and prevents visited sites from tracking your real IP and, consequently, your location and browsing habits.

It is also worth noting that visiting sites that do not have proper certifications (SSL/HTTPS) may risk users infecting their computers/devices with malware. Malware installed by bad actors can be used to infiltrate users’ data. So, it is not advisable to visit non-HTTPS websites and risk your data being stolen by hackers. If that is not possible, consider using HTTPS extensions like HTTPS Everywhere or AdBlock to reduce the risk of a system infiltration. Setting up anti-malware software on your computer/devices will also protect you against intrusion from unwanted third parties.

Social Media Protection

By now, most users connected to the internet have social media accounts. These social media platforms are known to obtain user information before account creation. But remember, these platforms, like other internet services, are hosted on centralized servers. Therefore, there is still a risk of losing your privacy to bad actors online. There are, however, numerous approaches, such as tweaking the privacy settings within the social media account and optimizing your passwords with a complex password (more than 12 characters), preferably a combination of hard-to-replicate characters such as symbols, uppercase and lowercase alphabets and numbers. Follow these measures carefully to provide maximum privacy to your social media browsing experience.

Protect your Privacy for a Present Online Experience.

Many businesses, colleges, and institutions are flocking to remote-based activities to curb the spread of the globe-sweeping novel coronavirus. Although dramatic change is required, some privacy experts are worried about the unintended consequences that appear in the face of the global crisis.

Staying safe online and protecting anonymity is akin to shutting down and locking your front door. In a highly connected world today, we are more likely to be robbed online than in a physical robbery — so use these tips to remain safe.

Privacy is a fundamental human right that organizations should abide by. While internet service providers will continuously improve their efforts in countering bad actors and other illicit activities that make your private data susceptible to theft and infiltration, users will have to play their part in preserving their data online. With newer technologies emerging, bad actors will also learn and think of new ways of stealing your data. Therefore, keeping track of self-implemented measures to protect yourself in the face of an unchanging world is essential.

The whole premise of Bitcoin, as proposed in its whitepaper when it was released in 2009, was to prevent the government from destroying fiat currency by moving your wealth into Bitcoin. And Bitcoin is succeeding in that task. Emerging technologies and assets, particularly Blockchain and cryptocurrency, hedge against a totalitarian outcome if governments or corporations have such detailed surveillance over the population, including spending habits. However, privacy remains to be excluded from the equation. Therefore, with sufficient efforts, you can still minimize your visibility and keep a low profile and thus your privacy. Practice extreme caution to preserve and protect your identity and privacy.

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