You might think that you're quite advanced in online safety matters if you know how to tweak Facebook's security and privacy options, empty your browser's cache, clear cookies or just use Chrome's Incognito mode. It is surely commendable if you know at least a few of the more advanced privacy options, though there are also a few of them that might take some digging into to fully understand why and how they affect you. However, most of the Internet users might not be aware of some of the security and privacy settings that include your browser, Google, social media like Facebook as well as your operating system. And there's no surprise there - most of these are smartly hidden away from basic users, who usually do not even think twice about their online presence and Internet safety.
Want to stay safe? Use a VPN
One of the best security measures and probably one of the easiest as well is using a VPN service provider. We highly recommend getting a VPN service provider, as it takes a lot of heat from the Internet users in terms of privacy and security. Your online activities, the websites you browse, what you download and so on - pretty much everything you do online is being tracked by your Internet Service Provider. What does a VPN do in terms of online safety? Well, a VPN service encrypts your Internet activities and traffic also hides your IP address, helps to stay safe from hackers and third-parties as well as advertisers that might be targeting you. A VPN service can offer a lot of other advantages too, not only those that are related to Internet security: you can access geographically restricted websites and content, use streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and more.
Want to know which VPN service providers are considered to be the best? Be sure to check out our list of the top-rated VPN services right here.
However, if for some reason you don't want to use a VPN service provider, there are other ways to stay secure online.
First, some ground rules
These should be obvious, but still, be sure to take the time to read through them, as you might discover something new you didn’t know or do before.
If you want to create a new account on some website you’re trying to register on, be sure to not sign up for emails and newsletters because many websites can track you. Of course, it’s a different story if you do want to receive the said newsletters and emails, but otherwise – you’ll be bombarded by spam emails.
If you’ve already signed up to receive emails by numerous services or just didn’t have the option to cancel before – opt out of the emails you are getting, as companies do know a lot of personal and financial details about you, especially if you've bought or are still buying/using their products.
Another trick is to try and create a new email per service and link them together to see which services are sending spam or unwanted emails. However, this method might take up a lot of time and resources because creating a new email address for each major service is tiring.
Sometimes an email address is just required: you need to download something, you need to access information, but you don't want to give out your email address to the specific website. Well, now there are temporary email address websites that let you create an email that is deleted after a few hours. It's an extremely useful service for those wanting to avoid spam altogether and those knowing they’ll only use the service or website for one time.
Another thing to pay attention to is your browser, as it also stores a lot of information concerning your privacy. Browsing history, autofill options, saved passwords – these are great and all, they save time as you don’t have to try and remember your 20-something password, but in truth, they are not great for your online safety.
For example, Chrome tracks you, it is how it is. It’s blatantly stated in the Advanced Privacy Settings. Be sure to go to Chrome’s settings and enable “Do not track” request for your browser to stop tracking your Internet activities.
Incognito mode might not be the one to stop you from being tracked all the time but will help you to avoid websites that store cookies. Moreover, when using Incognito mode, your browser does not save browsing history and disables web cache.
HTTP cookies are pieces of data stored on user computers, while third-party cookies are malicious and are used for tracking your browsing history. Surely, there is a way to avoid all that. Just go to Chrome’s Advanced settings, Content settings, Cookies and click to enable the "Block third-party’s cookies" section.
Asides from your choice of web browser, another source that gives a lot of your personal information away big time are social media. Let’s be honest – most of the social media gives a lot of personal data away because it is mostly based on user personal information, social interactions and more. However, you might think that you know what kind of information you are giving away, but we guarantee you – there is so much more. Facebook is the best social media example, as it gives most of your data away to apps, websites, and people.
Firstly, try to avoid signing up with Facebook on various websites and apps. It’s faster and easier, but takes a big bite out of your privacy, as it gains access to your otherwise restricted information.
Another important thing is to edit "Apps others use" (Apps, Websites, and Plugins). The information that is checked is everything your Facebook friends can share about you. A lot, isn’t it? We suggest unchecking everything, as it means that your Facebook friends won't be able to share your personal data.
Are you not sure what kind of websites or which apps have had access to your Facebook profile? In the Settings, Apps section, you can check your Facebook’s historical access and review the apps that had access to your information.
Also, Facebook’s integrations on third-party apps and websites are used by default, but you can easily disable Facebook’s platforms (Apps, Websites, and Plugins).
Let’s face it – Facebook ads are annoying and it’s scary how they show you an ad for a website you just closed in another tab. You want to prevent that and stop ad tracking? Go to Settings, Ads and in the ad section, change the first two options you see to “No”.
Moreover, if you don't want to see ads that are related to social actions, for example, you keep seeing ads that your Facebook friend liked something and now that ad is shown to you as well, just go to the “Ads related to social actions” and switch the setting to “No-one”. Now your Facebook friends won’t see if you’ve liked certain pages or not.
While this might obvious, but do not forget about the most "basic" Facebook settings that depend clearly on your own personal preferences – who can send you friend requests, see your Facebook posts, tag you in photos and so on. Furthermore, be sure to check who can look you up on Facebook based on the email address or the phone number you provided.
Operating system – Windows 10
While every operating system has its number of flaws and holes concerning user data, Windows 10 was heavily criticized for sending any kind of information about the user to Microsoft, moreover, attaching ID’s and using Cortana to collect all kinds of data. Although Windows 10 OS has a lot of flaws, it also provides probably the most options in terms of privacy and you can control. So technically, while the default options are faulty, users can change Windows privacy settings to the ones that suit their levels of security and privacy.
First and foremost, check the most basic Windows privacy settings. You will want to opt out from both "Send Microsoft how I write" and "Let apps use advertising ID". The first one might not do a lot of harm, so it’s up to you whether to disable it or not. The second option will help to stop Microsoft in tailoring user-specific ads and more.
If you don’t want your operating system to bother you with asking for feedback, go to Feedback privacy settings and change "Windows should ask for my feedback" to “Never”. Also, change the "Send device data to Microsoft" to “Basic” and restrict what you're sending to the company as well.
It might seem a bit more on the paranoid side and a bit too much for some, but you can turn off your camera and microphone entirely or choose which programs can have access to them, like Skype, your preferred camera application or other software that you might need them for.
Moreover, it is recommended to turn off the location for the device as well as location services, so your address or just general location won’t be tracked and the company won’t be able to show you ads based on your city, country and other.
Lastly, look at other settings as well and if you think they need changing or are invading your privacy – just alter them.
The almighty Google
Google probably knows the most about you. This might be because it collects your personal information and details aggressively and consistently. Surely, most Internet users use Google for tons of things - email, searching for information, watching Youtube videos and more. You don’t even think twice about doing it, you just open your browser and it’s already there (if it’s your default search engine). However, it does not need to be said how much and to what extent Google invades your privacy – most of you already know, but there are a few options to minimize the damage.
Yes, logging in with Google is quick, takes only a few clicks and saves time because no one wants to get into a lengthy process of creating a new account. However, most do not even read what kind of information a new website or app might request for in return. Most of the times it is the most basic information about you, but some websites or apps might want to access your contacts or rather confidential personal information. And you might not even pay much attention to it, as you will click “Next” desperately in the hopes of reaching the website you want. So, pay a bit more attention to what kind of information you grant access to.
Moreover, if you don't remember what kind of apps or websites are connected to your Google account or what kind of information they have access to, you can easily check it through your Google account (Sign-in & Security, Connected apps & sites). You can find all kinds of security, activity and privacy related settings in your account. Be sure to check them out and research them thoroughly.
Another way to minimize Google's snooping is by switching off its ads and ad personalization. Just go to "Ads Settings" in your Google account settings and disable “Ads Personalization” to opt out of Google's ads. This should help to avoid ads entirely or at least keep them coming at you to a minimum.
The “My Activity” section might be somewhat of a shock, because it’s difficult to process how all your Internet traffic can be seen in plain sight. You can even see how Google tracks your location trough maps (down to your exact coordinates!). Be sure to check out "Manage your Google activity" and "Activity controls". Here you can see everything out in the open, as activity shows everything - from your Google searches to what you've been listening to on Youtube or Google maps locations from your GPS. Of course, we suggest deleting the already accumulated data and pausing the tracking in every shown section.
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