10 tips to improve your Internet privacy

Ten tips to make your private digital life really private.

Massive data breaches, marketers tracking your every step online, shady people exploring the photos you shared in social networks — the list of digital annoyances goes on and on. However, it’s not completely hopeless: You do have control over your data. Here’s how to improve your privacy online.

1. Check social privacy settings

If you have social accounts, those networks have a lot of information about you, and you might be surprised how much of it is visible to anybody on the Internet by default. That’s why we strongly recommend you check your privacy settings: It’s up to you to decide what info you want to share with complete strangers versus your friends — or even nobody but you.

2. Don’t use public storages for private information

Oversharing is not limited to social networks. Don’t use online services that are meant for sharing information to store your private data. For example, Google Docs isn’t an ideal place to store a list of passwords, and Dropbox is not the best venue for your passport scans unless they are kept in an encrypted archive.

  • Don’t use services meant for sharing to store your private data.

3. Evade tracking

When you visit a website, your browser discloses a bunch of stuff about you and your surfing history. Marketers use that information to profile you and target you with ads. Incognito mode can’t really prevent such tracking; you need to use special tools.

4. Keep your main e-mail address and phone number private

Your reward for sharing your e-mail address and phone number? Tons of spam in your e-mail inbox and hundreds of robocalls on your phone. Even if you can’t avoid sharing this info with Internet services and online stores, don’t share it with random people on social networks. And consider creating a separate, disposable e-mail address and, if possible, a separate phone number for these cases.

  • Create an additional e-mail account and purchase an additional SIM card to use for online shopping and other situations that require sharing your data with strangers.

5. Use messaging apps with end-to-end encryption

Most modern messaging apps use encryption, but in many cases it’s what they call encryption in transit — messages are decrypted on the provider’s side and stored on its servers. What if someone hacks those servers? Don’t take that risk — chose end-to-end encryption — that way, even the messaging service provider can’t see your conversations.

  • Use a messaging app with end-to-end encryption — for example, WhatsApp;
  • Note that by default, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Google Allo do not use end-to-end encryption. To enable it, manually start a secret chat.

6. Use secure passwords

Using weak passwords to protect your private information is as good as shouting that information to passersby. It’s nearly impossible to memorize long and unique passwords for all the services you use, but with a password manager you can memorize just one master password.

  • Use long (12 characters and more) passwords everywhere;
  • Use a different password for each service;
  • Use a Kaspersky Password Manager to make using secure passwords easier.

7. Review permissions for mobile apps and browser extensions

Mobile apps prompt you to give them permissions to access contacts or files in device storage, and to use the camera, microphone, geolocation, and so on. Some really cannot work without these permissions, but some use this information to profile you for marketing (and worse). Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to control which apps are given which permissions. The same stands for browser extensions, which also have unfortunate spying tendencies.

  • Review the permissions you give to mobile apps. Here’s how to do that on Android and on iOS;
  • Do not install browser extensions unless you really need them. Carefully check the permissions you give them.

8. Secure your phone and computer with passwords or passcodes

Our computers and phones store a lot of data we’d rather keep private, so protect them with passwords. These passwords don’t have to be complicated and unique, but they should keep random people out. On mobile devices, do a bit better: six-digit PINs or actual passwords rather than four digits and screen-lock patterns. For devices that support biometric authentication — whether fingerprint reading or face unlock — that’s generally OK, but remember that these technologies have limitations.

  • Use passwords or biometric authentication to lock your phones, tablets, and computers.

9. Disable lock screen notifications

Protect your phone with a long, secure password, but leave notifications on the lock screen? Now any passerby can see your business. To keep that information from appearing on the locked screen, set up notifications correctly.

  • Disable lock-screen notifications or hide sensitive information from the lock screen. Here’s how to do it on Android and on iOS.

10. Stay private on Wi-Fi networks

Public Wi-Fi networks usually do not encrypt traffic, and that means anyone on the same network can try to snoop on your traffic. Avoid transmitting any sensitive data — logins, passwords, credit card data, and so forth — over public Wi-Fi, and use a VPN to encrypt your data and protect it from prying eyes.

  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi if possible; find out more about public Wi-Fi risks
  • If you must connect to a public hotspot, use a secure VPN connection.