Reducing Your Digital Footprint
Ensuring digital privacy nowadays can seem like a monumental task, perhaps nearly impossible. The interconnected digital world we live in today has given birth to a number of companies that profit from not only collecting but sharing and selling your information to other companies. The kind of information collected is information associated with your web searches, online purchases, movie, and video streaming or, use of apps on your phone or TV. This is typically referred to as metadata and can have a variety of uses. For example, it can determine what ads should be displayed on your favorite web browser, or what movie or video suggestions to make; but it can also be used by cybercriminals to craft better ways to compromise your accounts or devices.
While it may seem like an overwhelming task, there are simple changes you can make to reduce your digital footprint. In this post, we will review the basics of online tracking and share steps you can take to minimize the amount of information that is collected from your online behaviors and actions.
While disconnecting yourself and your devices from the internet may seem like the only solution, there are a variety of steps you can take towards reducing your digital footprint. Before we cover these, let’s take a moment to learn more about online tracking and the various tracking methods used.
It is a term used to refer to a file that is (typically) placed on your computer when visiting a website. Cookies are used by websites to customize your browsing experience. For example, they enable websites to determine what items you left in a shopping cart during your last visit. Cookies that are used by the website that generated them are referred to as “first-party cookies”.
These are not the only type of cookies. Many websites allow other companies to place cookies to do things like gathering analytics about how much time you spent on a particular page; or to understand what ads to show on the site, based on what products and sites you have recently visited. These are referred to as third-party cookies
Cookies are not the only method available for websites and applications to track you. Another popular method used to track your activity online is device fingerprinting. This is the equivalent of your digital fingerprint and it is basically a string value that represents the device type you are using to access the web and your browser’s unique configuration and settings. Like cookies, your device fingerprint is used to track your online activity.
Similar to device fingerprinting, mobile devices use something similar called “unique identifiers”. These are typically generated by the application you are using on your mobile device. Advertisers use unique identifiers generated by your smartphone to track you.
Take Steps Towards Reducing Your Digital Footprint
Now that we have a better understanding of what “Online Tracking” is, let’s take a moment to cover what you can do across various device types.
On Your Computer:
You can choose to have more privacy by adjusting the privacy settings on your favorite web browser. Said settings will let you see and delete cookies on your computer and decide what type of cookies you want to allow. Here’s how to change the privacy setting on different browsers:
On Your Mobile Phone:
Did you know that mobile devices also have privacy settings that let you control whether ads will be targeted to you based on your app usage and browsing activity? There are several things you can do to help protect your privacy
Location: Yes, you guessed right. Many companies access your device location to send relevant ads based on your location. However, you can limit the sharing of your location for every app. You’ll usually find these controls under the “location services” section of your privacy settings.
Disable Personalization: In the “advertising” section of your privacy settings, there may be a “Personalized Ads” or “Ad Personalization” control. If you turn off personalized ads, your phone will stop using your info to show you targeted ads.
Reset Identifiers: Under the “advertising” section of your phone’s privacy settings, there should be an option to reset advertising identifiers. If you reset it, your device will generate a new identifier and any data associated with your previous advertising identifier will not be linked to your new identifier. However, tracking will start with the new identifier.
Mobile Apps: Get familiar with the privacy settings of apps and consider the following:
- Beware of app permissions. Upon installation, apps will often ask for permission to access personal information (contacts, location, even your camera). While this may be necessary for the app to function properly, they also may be sharing this information with other companies.
- If apps need access to your location, think about limiting access to only when the app is in use.
- Delete apps you no longer use or need to help avoid unnecessary data collection.
- Don’t use social media accounts to sign in to apps, as this may allow them to collect information from your social network and vice versa. Use an email address and a unique password to sign in.
On Your Streaming Service or Smart TV
You may also want to consider making changes to the privacy settings of your smart tv and devices used for streaming, to prevent companies from tracking and collecting information about what you watch. To learn how to do this, simply search online for the name of your television or streaming device and “privacy settings” to get specific guidance on how to adjust these settings.
Opt-Out of Data Broker Sites That Sell Information
Data brokers are entities that collect personal information about you from a variety of sources, with the intent to resell it to others. If you are often the recipient of unsolicited offers for credit and insurance, you can leverage sites such as optoutprescreen.com to opt-out of various data brokers.
If it seems like protecting your privacy is simply borderline impossible, you would be correct. However, we have shared several steps that you can take towards reducing your digital footprint; therefore, limiting the amount of information collected about you.
This information was brought to you by Lifelines Neuro’s Chief Information Security Officer, Rafael Garrido. See his other works to help increase your online protection.