From zero to online privacy hero in 5 steps

Floods of spam drowning your inboxes? Too many friend requests and strangers commenting on your Facebook posts? Ads related to your Internet searches following you around the Internet? The core of the problem is that you’re giving away too much private data. We’ve got you covered: Here are five steps to improve the state of your online privacy.

1. Think before sharing

You’re not violating your own privacy or spying on yourself, but your online privacy does start with you and your decisions. Some information is worth sharing, and some is better kept secret.

You wouldn’t post your password on Facebook, right? For the very same reason, you should avoid posting other information that may give away too much, such as your address, your personal phone number, your e-mail address, and so on. Before sharing anything, consider unintended consequences and do not overshare anything that might compromise your or someone else’s privacy.

Loads of stuff isn’t necessarily safe to share on the Internet, including plane tickets, anything with a QR code, and more. Share a concert ticket with a QR code on it and you’re basically giving it away.

If you really want to post a picture of a ticket online, edit the image to remove the QR code (and the ticket number, perhaps) — and do it the right way, so other people cannot restore the information you tried to hide. It’s safer, of course, not to share such things at all.

2. Browse the Web privately

Visiting a website triggers an analytics code that counts visitors and tallies page popularity. Usually, the analytics code actually belongs to an Internet giant such as Google or Facebook, which uses information about the sites you visit to serve you ads based on your interests.

One solution to that creepy annoyance is to use your browser’s incognito or private browsing mode. However, the strategy has its limits. Browsing privately prevents the sharing of some information with the websites you visit — and with numerous third parties you don’t even know about — but not all of it.

A better way is to install a dedicated anti-tracking solution: for example, Private Browsing in Kaspersky Security Cloud.

However, neither anti-tracking features nor incognito mode can hide your online activities from your Internet service provider. Many ISPs collect that information and sell it. Some of them go even farther and serve you ads with their own ads systems. If you want to keep them in the dark about what you’re doing online, use a VPN. Using a virtual private network establishes a secure encrypted tunnel between your computer and a remote server, and all your provider will be able to see is that you’re communicating with that server.

Of course, we recommend our VPN, Kaspersky Secure Connection.

Another aspect to pay attention to is which search engine and which browser you’re using. It shouldn’t surprise you that some browsers collect data and use it for advertising, and so do search engines. Don’t like it? Use privacy-oriented browsers such as Firefox and search engines that do not track users, such as DuckDuckGo and Startpage.com.

If you do, you will be making certain sacrifices for better privacy. For example, search results in privacy-oriented search engines tend to be less relevant; such engines don’t know enough about you to tune the results specifically for you.

As for the privacy-oriented browsers, the downside is website optimization. The gold standard for modern Web design is Google’s browser, Chrome. Not all websites are thoroughly optimized for the more-private Firefox.

3. Set up your social networks for better privacy

Social networks are public places, but not all public spaces are the same, and some things are not appropriate to show to everyone. Social networks have a lot of settings that determine which information is available to which kinds of users (unregistered, registered, friends of friends, friends, and so on).

In addition to that, in most cases social networks give you a lot of other options. You can choose whether your profile is searchable, and whether other people can tag you, write you messages, or otherwise disturb you. Spend some time tweaking your privacy settings on any social networks you use — we explain the options for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a bunch of other services at the links — and you won’t be bothered by spammers and scammers (which abound on every social network) there.

For a deeper dive into online privacy on social networks, we recommend using our Privacy Checker, a simple tool that describes each and every setting in a chosen social network and gives advice on how to set it up for different levels of privacy on different platforms. As you may have noticed, enhancing privacy sometimes means sacrificing convenience, and that balance is personal.

Privacy Checker is not limited to social networks; it can help you set up your operating system for better privacy as well.

4. Delete accounts and data — or delete accounts but keep your data

We all have dozens of accounts, many of which we barely use or forgot long ago, but only a few of those are automatically deleted. Most of them persist, and any of them could one day leak your information. As we all know, breaches happen way more frequently than anyone would like.

It’s good practice to delete accounts that you don’t use and don’t plan on using in the future. Don’t hesitate to do so. That’s particularly important for accounts that contain a lot of your data — such as social network profiles, unused e-mail accounts, and accounts with payment systems.

If you’ve read enough articles on privacy to consider leaving at least some social networks for good, don’t forget that you can do so without losing your data. Here’s how to do that with Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook.

5. Use GDPR, which was actually created for you

Privacy reached a new level with the European Union’s Global Data Protection Regulation. Now you can request an accounting of the data a company has on you. Companies are obliged by law to respond, and even to delete some of it on demand.

The problem with GDPR is that many people just don’t understand how to use it. Four out of five people we surveyed (82%) had actually tried to remove something from the Internet, but less than half (37%) knew how to do it: how to write a GDPR request, whom to send it to, what questions to ask, and how to formulate requests. Like most legal matters, GDPR is not simple.

This is where our new service, Undatify by Kaspersky, comes in handy by partially automating your requests for data removal. It helps you send proper data removal requests to companies you no longer want to store or process your data. It also helps clarify companies’ responses, and will file a complaint if they don’t respond. Undatify is available only where GDPR applies.