We live in a hyper-connected, information economy these days. And although that has very clear benefits, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the dark side of big data is changing lives and influencing behaviour on an unprecedented scale. From the Cambridge Analytica scandal to voter behaviour change through Smartmatic to the ever-shrinking echo chamber of social media feeds and ‘fake news’, the nuggets of personal information we’ve been happily giving out are beginning to be used to manipulate the very reality around us. Personal privacy is an ever-shrinking circle, and we stand at the centre surrounded by predatory corporations, unscrupulous individuals and even government agencies. But there are still steps you can take to enhance your data security and limit your exposure:
Rethink Your Email Provider
If you are still using a big-box free email provider such as Outlook or Gmail, then you are open to sharing all your communication as these channels are not secure. Instead, in order to communicate freely, you’ll need to sign up to a paid service and generally one based outside of North America. With encryption, it is possible to keep your messages themselves private but there is no encrypting the metadata that goes along with it – the information is required by the internet routing system and most state security agencies can access it without a warrant.
Beware Your Browser
Browser security is something most of us don’t give a lot of thought to, but it’s worth reconsidering when you realise that the log of sites you’ve visited is public property and as such can be used for programmatic advertising – the kind that follows you around the Internet. Tools such as Tor Browser can help to hide this activity log, and even a simple adjustment of browser settings goes a long way towards stopping the advertisers having free reign with your data.
Conscious of the Cloud
As cloud-computing becomes the norm, so too does access to your files and documents by the authorities. Popular services like iCloud, Dropbox and Evernote are all potentially accessible by others, so have a think about encrypting and limiting the data you store on them.
Wary of Wireless
How many of us have the Bluetooth capability on our phones switched on by default? This simple move can be a killer. The same goes for unsecured public Wi-Fi – as a bare minimum only use sites with a HTTPS connection and keep your Bluetooth turned off unless you need it.
Precious About Passwords
Shockingly, many people still have basic passwords that are easy to guess on just a few attempts. The key lies in creating a ‘passphrase’ or a nonsense word that isn’t easily guessed, but is memorable to you, containing a mix of numbers and upper and lowercase letters. Password management apps can help you out by allowing you to create multiple passwords for different sites and accessing them under one ‘master’ password. Some sites are now offering multi-level authentication processes, similar to banking sites, so make sure you take advantage of this when it’s on offer to keep your data safer than average.