Many of us spend hours each day online, working, shopping, accessing entertainment or simply browsing. And most of us are very much aware of the major data breaches that regularly hit the headlines. Even so, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the ease and speed of navigating online and to forget to leverage important strategies to better protect our personal data.
From simply switching browsers to committing to better cyber hygiene habits, there are multiple methods and tools that can help consumers better protect their privacy online. Below, 15 members of Forbes Technology Council share some smart strategies to adopt—including those you can start using immediately.
1. Share Data Only With Reputable Brands And Platforms
Ad blockers are great for a more enjoyable experience when browsing the Web, and new types of browsers that anonymize your data could help further. Ultimately, consumers should realize that they are the product. The best strategy to protect your privacy online is to share data only with reputable brands and platforms to avoid your personal information being resold around the Web. - Jan Oudeman, Grivy
2. Don’t Share Your Personal Data If You Don’t Have To
Rule No. 1 is to treat your personal data with as much care yourself as you expect others to take with it. Don’t give up personal details unless it’s legally necessary, and ask why your personal data is required in the first place. If it’s not legally required, don’t share it! Weigh the benefits of posting personal details on social media or giving up personal data to receive discounts versus the privacy risks involved. - Arti Raman, Titaniam
3. Consider Using A VPN
Many consumers overlook the use of a virtual private network. A VPN will encrypt your internet connection and hide your IP address; this makes it more difficult for third parties to track your online activity and access your personal data. A VPN can also help protect your privacy when you’re using public Wi-Fi networks, and it prevents your internet service provider from collecting and selling your data. - Thomas Walle, Unacast
4. Control Your Cookies
Privacy regulations require that websites allow visitors to manage their footprints, by controlling the cookies that record a visit. With one click, a consumer can deny a website the ability to store any information from their visit, protecting their privacy and preventing that website from contacting them. Most consumers are under the false impression they may lose something by choosing that option. - Zohar Gilad, Fast Simon Inc.
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5. Don’t Post Photos Directly From Your Phone
Stop posting photos straight from your phone camera. Most modern phones embed EXIF metadata into photos by default, which includes such things as location coordinates with the image file. This information can be easily scraped and used for nefarious ends. Turn off location sharing or screenshot photos before posting them. - Ian McShane, Arctic Wolf
6. Create Unique Passwords For Each Device And Account, And Watch For Website Security Signs
Create unique passwords for each device, account and website. Keep your passwords offline in a private, safe, locked location if you need to write them down in order to remember them. Search for the lock icon, HTTPS protocol or green highlighting in the URL bar; all of these point to a website's potential security. However, be aware that these methods are not perfect. - Margarita Simonova, ILoveMyQA
7. Use A Password Manager
In 2023, every person conducting business or using online services should implement the use of a password manager. These applications allow you to use a secure password for all your logins without the messy requirement of remembering them. Several popular solutions are available. - RJ Johnston, Johnston Howse
8. Provide Only The Bare Minimum PII To Complete A Transaction
Consumers should be mindful of where they disclose information online and reconsider mindlessly giving away all their personally identifiable information. Just because a website includes a data field in a form does not mean they have the need for or the right to that data. Consider providing only the bare minimum needed to complete the transaction. An attacker can’t steal data that doesn’t exist in a database. - Mike Lefebvre, SEI
9. Use Browsers That Offer Privacy By Default
There are browsers that are private by default. When you use these browsers, by default, your cookies, browsing history and even your passwords don’t stick around. This is automated private browsing that anyone can utilize. - Christine Bejerasco, WithSecure
10. Regularly Check A Password Breach Database
Password breaches are one of the most common ways your security gets compromised online. I recommend checking a password breach database monthly to see if any of your current passwords have been leaked. One of our favorite tools for this is dehashed.com. - Adam Ayers, Number 5
11. Take The Time To Read Privacy Policies
12. Remember That Anything Said Or Posted Online Is Forever
Most consumers simply don’t understand that there really isn’t any privacy. Anything once posted online or shown in a photo is forever. It’s not just credit card numbers—it’s vacations, habits, local haunts, you name it. Even something as simple as an out-of-office reply can lead to a privacy breach if it’s worded too personally. - Seth Wasserman, Menin Hospitality
13. Don’t Connect Your Social Media Accounts To Retail Accounts
Avoid connecting social media accounts when creating a new retail account. When visiting any retailer, a shopper is expected to create a login when checking out. Who wants to take the time to type in an email and generate a password when you can connect your social media account with one click? But the moment you connect those accounts, you expose your data in more ways than you can imagine. - Ben Finke, OnDefend
14. Establish A Virtual Phone Number
You can better protect your privacy by getting a virtual phone number and sharing that with businesses instead of your real number. You rent the virtual number from a cloud communications platform for a dollar or less a month, then set it up so that incoming calls are forwarded to your real number. When calling out, you can mask your Caller ID by prefixing the number you’re calling with *67. - Venky Balasubramanian, Plivo
15. Attach A Dollar Value To Your Data
If you’re a party in a data breach settlement, you’ll typically receive between $5 and $25. It is also a sure fact that data breaches will happen. Thus, when entering information, ask yourself: “Is what I’m getting worth $25?” If it’s not, walk away and don’t share your name, email address or Social Security number. - Kevin Korte, Univention