Be a savvy surfer to protect your privacy

The pensive businessman is using a laptop knowning precautions are needed to protect privacy online
The pensive businessman is using a laptop knowning precautions are needed to protect privacy online
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

Your chance to trace past family members on the web

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With the number of people using the internet rising all the time, protecting your online privacy is becoming more and more important.

But you don’t have to buy expensive programmes or take a computer class to hugely increase the safety of your surfing – there are hints and tips that can make a real difference.

A lot of people are waking up to the fact that we’re giving away far more than we realise.

Often this is through inputting personal information – such as your address, date of birth, phone number or bank details – without paying enough attention to how that data will be used.

One major shock for some users came when they took a look at their ‘contacts’ page on social networking site Facebook.

This can be found by clicking ‘friends’ and then ‘edit friends’ and arriving at a list which can contain dozens – if not hundreds – of mobile numbers for people you may hardly know. The reason is that smart phones often try to synchronise with the site, uploading your mobile number without asking you.

Facebook also has a nasty habit of taking any new information you give it, such as your mobile number, and disregarding any previous security settings to just make it available by default. These irritating security breaches can be easily remedied by using features on the site, but there are other steps you can take to avoid more general intrusions while browsing.

Michael Fertik is the founder of ReputationDefender, a website which will work out exactly how exposed you are to invasions of your online privacy.

He said: ‘The landscape of personal data mining and exploitation is shifting faster than ever; trying to protect your online privacy alone is like trying to build your own antivirus software—really, really difficult.

‘But whether or not you have the time (or money) to invest in the pros, there are a few simple steps we can all take to reduce the risk to our private data.’

Here are a few tips Streetwise has compiled to help keep your private information private.

1. Keep separate e-mail accounts.

If you have an e-mail account which uses your real name and you want to keep it safe and clean, create a new address under a pseudonym and don’t use any personal information when you set it up. So if a site asks for an e-mail address before you can sign up or buy something, use your ‘public’ e-mail to avoid exposing your personal one to threats or spam.

2. Be a savvy surfer.

If you receive an e-mail from someone you don’t know, don’t reply. If you get an e-mail from someone you do know but it looks suspicious, don’t reply.

If a window suddenly pops up telling you you’ve won a holiday and all you need to do is click on a link, don’t. One click is all it takes sometimes for your details to become vulnerable.

3. Block cookies on your web browser.

Every time you visit a site a record is made which can eventually be used to create a profile of your browsing habits. This can then be sold without your consent to companies around the world. By blocking cookies, you’ll prevent some of this data collection.

4. Use multiple usernames and passwords.

If you have the same username across different sites, your entire online life can be mapped. Also make sure the passwords are strong enough not to be easily broken; use 14 characters or more with numbers to be sure.

5. Be cautious with your data.

The most obvious tip of all is to just watch what you’re telling people about yourself. Don’t reveal personal information.