Dare I Be Invisible?

I’ve thought about it.  Stepping off the grid and becoming completely invisible; online at least.

No identity theft.  No public shaming.  No big data marketing manipulation.  No government intrusion.  And yet still, no utopia.

Being invisible is not interchangeable with being private.  Even in this digital age, we can get up, stand up and fight for our right to privacy while still enjoying the spoils of a connected world.  Ready? Set. Fight!

Just as we would not walk down a dark alley without putting up our guard and tightening our awareness of our environment, we should not traverse the digital domain without consciously monitoring our actions.  To maintain our privacy, we must constantly analyze our browsing habits, social media interactions email practices, mobile use and our passwords to maintain our privacy.

Weak Spots

Let’s start with email.  Sure, instant message (IM) services and social media dominate cyber communications, but email is still the bedrock of the online world.  Phishing scams abound!  Be suspicious of password reset notifications (that you never initiated), requests for money or personal info and viruses as each of these can be an assault on your privacy.

Social media, by its very nature, is the antithesis of privacy.  'Social' is designed for interaction, for sharing, for connections.  Yet, this is the space we must be most vigilant in protecting our identity.  For some, it is easy to forget that chatting on the internet is like chatting with a friend at a bus stop; everyone within earshot can hear.  Even if personal data is exchanged in a Direct Message (DM) versus a feed/timeline, the data is “out there”, in a public space for the world to see if they wish.

Assuming you don’t maintain fake accounts, it is certainly important to review, tweak and update your privacy settings regularly.  Facebook, Instagram (IG), LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Swarm, Snapchat, Periscope and countless other social media sites are known to change their policy, occasionally with little notification to users.

Then, there are the competitions, promotions and third party apps which are cleverly and specifically designed to mine your data under the guise of the chance at a reward.

Firewalls, anti-virus and anti-malware software, private browsing settings, cookie and ad blockers are all tools in the arsenal against prying eyes, but like a .22 calibre bullet on a meth-head, they are limited in scope if your ISP is tracking your browsing habits.  Advanced weapons like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), Tor browsers and IP spoofing are not for the technologically challenged.

The myriad of devices collecting, collating and processing our personal data is not limited to laptop and desktop computers.  Think smaller.  Think mobile.  Tablets and phones are arguably the greatest tracking tools ever invented.  Their prominent place in our daily lives simply increases their potency. GPS tracking and tagging, insecure apps, ridiculously simple PINs, improper disposal all threaten our personal security.

A Stitch In Time

Here is the cold hard truth.  Your privacy is your right, but rights are not absolute.  That said, there are some steps you can take to defend your rights.

These days, almost everything has a password … your laptop, tablet and mobile phone, your websites and apps, hell - even your front door!  Start with a strong, unique password.  If there is even the whisper of a hack, change it.  In fact, change it every three months just to be safe.

Then, support (never remove) the password.  Two-factor authentication (2FA) is becoming a lot more popular.  When it is available, take it.  Just be sure that you keep your mobile safe too.

Think seriously about encrypting your data … your email, your IM messages … keep the contents between you and your recipient.

And always make a backup, or three.  Yes, three.  If your data is held at ransom, if there is a physical threat or if it is lost or stolen without any discernible reason, you’ll be glad you have a physical backup, an off-site backup and a cloud backup.  And remember, the backup has got to be encrypted too.

I admit, I am addicted to the many benefits of the grid - online shopping, streaming entertainment, seamless video chats with the family overseas.  So I won’t be stepping off soon.  But, I will be stepping up my privacy protocols and you should too.

IG Panic

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