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Overwhelmed by digital privacy? Reset with these practical tips

The Markup published one practical privacy tip each workday this January that Markup staffers or readers actually use in their own lives—here is every one of them.

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3d retro abstract collage of hacker eye spying personal data of girl in armchair

Roman Samborskyi // Shutterstock

If thinking about protecting your privacy online makes you feel anxious, overwhelmed, or resigned, you aren't alone. 

Nearly 70 percent of Americans felt overwhelmed solely by the number of passwords they have to track, according to a 2023 Pew Research Center survey. Just over 60 percent aren't sure that any steps they take when managing their privacy online make a difference, the same survey found.

That's why, this January, The Markup published one practical privacy tip a day that Markup staffers or readers actually use in their own lives. 

We called it "Gentle January" because the tips are a mix of calming (did you know you can stop tracking all those passwords yourself?), whimsical (yes yes, we do teach you to fake some things), or downright practical (turns out, you should install those software updates).

Here's a condensed version of all 20 tips in one place. Click on any individual tip to learn more. 

  1. Use a privacy protector on your phone and computer screens to protect your activity from wandering eyes.  
  2. Download a privacy-protecting web browser that blocks not only ads, but cookies, trackers, and more.
  3. Install software updates as soon as they're available to stay secure and avoid being hacked.
  4. Activate two-factor authentication across all of your accounts, ideally using authenticator apps or security keys.
  5. Don't share your current location on social media—at least, until after you've left it.
  6. Use a password manager to ensure you have a secure, unique password for each of your accounts.
  7. Upgrade your wireless router hardware, especially if yours is from before 2020. Your connection will be more secure thanks to new privacy standards.
  8. Get a burner phone number in case you need an extra level of privacy when working, signing up for shopper rewards programs, or even using dating apps.
  9. Review your social media privacy settings to stop your account from being shown to people you may not want seeing it.
  10. Ditch Google Maps for an alternative. Even switching to Apple Maps can reduce how much of your data is sent to advertisers.
  11. Browse the web in "private" or "incognito" mode to reduce the amount of cookies you're tracked by and keep your accounts secure. Especially if you're using a public computer. 
  12. Activate a little-known Screen Time setting, if you're an iPhone user, to decrease the chance of your data being taken if your phone gets lost or stolen.
  13. Keep your kids' info off the internet if you're a parent. That's it. That's the tip.
  14. Keep your info off the internet by using services like DeleteMe, that remove your data from data brokers' hands.
  15. Don't forget about real-world privacy, like using cash and shredding your mail before you throw it away.
  16. Try using a "virtual machine" the next time you want to open a potentially sketchy document or software.
  17. Implement a written or numeric passcode, rather than using FaceID or other face recognition technology, to unlock your phone.
  18. Lie about your birthday! To retailers in particular. They don't need to know.
  19. Fake your answers to account security questions to keep hackers from finding and using your real info. This can also stop some pretty personal data from getting exposed in a potential breach.
  20. Say goodbye to Gmail, Hotmail, and the like by switching to a more private email provider.  

Actions like these—however small they may feel—do make a difference. Just think about how one organization turning off its tracking code can potentially protect the data of all of its visitors. By implementing just a few of these privacy tips, your accounts could be safer, and less of your data could end up with advertisers. 

While Gentle January has come to an end for now, our newsroom regularly investigates how technology—from Facebook's Pixel to software implemented by colleges and universities—may be putting sensitive data about you at risk. These investigations often come paired with information you can use to better protect your privacy both online and in the real world

This story was produced by The Markup and reviewed and distributed by Stacker Media.


 




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