Online privacy and internet safety are major security concerns in today's world. How much of your can social networks, companies, the government, and criminals collect and sell? Better yet, who can see, collect and sell your child's information online?
About 20 percent of teenage internet users have had a stranger contact them with sexual messages online, according to GuardChild. If you're worried about your privacy and whether you're doing all you can to ensure internet privacy and security in your home and on your mobile device, this guide is for you. I will define online privacy and its laws, explain how companies access your information and go through what it takes to stop this from happening to you and your family.
In This Guide
What Is Internet Privacy?
internet privacy might be the most pressing issue of the internet age. Online research, transactions, social media interactions, and applications are necessary and fun; but do you know who can access your information once it's out there?
First, there are two different types of online privacy definitions to consider.
- Personal Privacy - Personal privacy refers to your online reputation and personally identifiable information available to the public via your online activity on social media and other websites (address, phone number, photos, etc.)
- Consumer Privacy - Consumer privacy is the information social networks, companies, and the government collects online about you from transactions, clicks, searches, posts, your current location, and more.
There are various different ways to go about protecting yourself and your family from each of these online safety issues. There are even certain laws and regulations in place to help make sure your information and your children's information is safe. Identity protection services can help protect your information from being stolen and used in ways you never agreed to online, but it's also important to learn the ins and outs of online privacy and internet safety.
Internet Privacy Laws and Regulations
Before we dive into various internet safety tips, you should know which laws and rules are out there to protect you and your family.
There are various avenues in which our information is constantly being taken and used for business, government, and criminal purposes
Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
According to the FTC, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act was created to "prohibit unfair or deceptive acts or practices in connection with the collection of, use, and/or disclosure of personally identifiable information from and about children on the internet."
In other words, it seeks to prohibit social media sites, search engines and companies from seizing and using children's personal information and internet practices to market products, give to other companies for marketing, and spread elsewhere on the internet. A person is considered a child if they are under thirteen-years-old.
Right to Privacy and the Fourth Amendment
The Right to Privacy within the Fourth Amendment gives us a reasonable expectation of privacy, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It is there to protect us against unreasonable search and seizure. Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment hasn't yet caught up with the digital age. We haven't figured out the best way to interpret the right to privacy that will protect internet users from online hackers, scams, etc.
Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
This act is used to prosecute hackers and criminals who have committed crimes like wiretapping, identity theft, unlawful access to stored communications, access device fraud, wire fraud, and communications interference, according to HackerLaw.org.
New Broadband Consumer Privacy Rules
New broadband consumer privacy rules would regulate disclosure from companies and websites about how they use and sell consumer's personal data online for business purposes, according to NPR. In some cases, these rules would implement procedures in which consumers had to agree to these actions beforehand instead of being automatically subjected to them.
These rules are still being refined and as a result, have not yet been implemented. Major companies like Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile who collect ample information on consumer habits for business purposes are fighting the rules. They say it gives companies who are only regulated by the FTC an unfair advantage and filed a petition to try to stop these regulations earlier this year. We will have to wait and see what happens.
The Dangers Of Data Tracking
Do you know where your data goes? For example, identity theft is a huge issue here in the United States, with $16.4 billion being stolen from 15.4 million consumers just in 2016, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Here's what can happen if you don't protect your computer and cellphone privacy.
- Your identity can be stolen via phishing, hacking and viruses. Once it's stolen, people can pretend to be you and even gain access to your personal information like your credit card and social security numbers. Identity theft protection service providers, like these services within our comparison guide, will prevent this from happening.
- Network traffic analysis tracks your location, search history, likes, dislikes, shares, etc. to sell to advertising companies. The best VPN services and private browsers can prevent this.
- Data tracking can lead to price discrimination depending on your location.
- Malware is an application with a virus or trojan used to damage consumer's computers. Beware: viruses can come from marketers that have paid for your information via email and social media.
- Phishing, which we delve further into here, is when someone steals your username and passwords or payment information to ultimately steal your money. Phishing scams can occur via email and social media messages.
- Spyware is an offline application that can help criminals and others track your data without approval when your computer is offline.
- You could be targeted by a stranger.
Fortunately, there are various ways to protect yourself from internet dangers. Read on for tools and tips on how to prevent these things from happening to you.
Read More: We go further in explaining what a VPN service is if you're interested in learning more.
How To Protect You and Your Family's Internet Privacy
There are various avenues by which our information is constantly being taken and used for business, government, and criminal purposes. Here are some such avenues in which data privacy is a security concern, and ways to protect yourself and your family.
- Beware of what you post online, including personal information. Once it's online, it's a potential security risk.
- Get only the strongest of anti-virus software to protect your devices from viruses.
- Update your antivirus software when necessary.
- Find a secure web browser or VPN provider.
- Make sure you have a secure internet connection - especially when it comes to your wireless network. You can always compare internet providers here.
- Purchase only the best identity theft protection services.
- Switch your passwords at least every so often using upper and lower case letters and symbols to make it hard for others to guess. Check out this free Microsoft tool to test password strength.
- Try not to use the same password for multiple accounts to avoid a full hack if someone gets one of your passwords. You can keep all your passwords safe in one place with the best password manager.
- Turn off your computer if you're not using it, to protect yourself and others from viruses.
- Do not respond to, forward, or click on things in suspicious emails to avoid online phishing scams. Clicking on malicious links is a fast road to becoming vulnerable to an online security breach.
- Think before you post, converse, comment, or share. Try not to post anything too personal or inappropriate. Once it's out there, it's out there forever.
While entering your email address into forms is fairly standard, you should never enter sensitive data like your social security number unless it's a secure government or another high-security website, such as when doing your taxes online.
Social Media and Blogging Safety
Social media and blogging are frequently used for socializing, networking, selling products and showcasing personal information to friends, family, and consumers. Did you know that the entire internet has access to this information unless you go out of your way to set privacy settings or exclude certain information? It's true.
Bosses, potential employers, criminals, and the government could be searching your accounts and secretly viewing your personal information. Here are some tips to help you protect your information from outsiders.
Blogging is public. Unless your blogging platform has specific privacy and security settings, your posts could pop up with any relevant search in any search engine. Here are some tips to protect your online privacy when blogging.
- You don't want to give anyone the wrong impression with your posts or comments and you certainly don't want to start any arguments that can be seen by others. You never know whom you're dealing with or what their intentions are.
- Deleting photos and information from your blog or website doesn't necessarily mean they're gone. Since information can be stored by anyone who sees it, it may never really be deleted from the internet. Again, don't post things you don't want everyone to see.
- Be aware of copyright issues. If you post original photos or poems on your blog or website, there are steps you can take so people can't just copy and save them as their own. For example, WordPress.org allows its users to download a plugin that stops people from right clicking on your site. This way, they can't instantly steal your work.
Facebook privacy settings have gotten stronger in the past couple of years, but only in the personal privacy department. When it comes to consumer internet privacy, Facebook collects and uses your search history, transaction history, and interests to sell and promote products and services. We will get into some reliable ways to protect your consumer privacy a little later. For now, here are some tips and ways to protect your personal social media privacy on Facebook.
- Don't allow Facebook to use your current location when you post on any device, including your laptop, smartphone, and tablet. You should also turn location settings off in your mobile device settings. If you don't, Facebook can track your exact location to advertise products and service providers available in your area. This may be good business, but it is not good for consumers who don't want anyone knowing their location at all times.
- Facebook collects information on your searches, interests, page likes, groups and more for analytics and marketing purposes. If you don't like this, you should either delete your account, look into the best VPN service, or use a more secure web browser.
- Don't post private information on Facebook. This may seem obvious, but people still do it all the time. If you are worried about whether your information will be visible to the world, you might as well not even post it.
- Don't accept friend requests from people you've never seen or talked to before. Once you accept someone to be your friend or follow your page, your information is in their hands.
- While Facebook's photo privacy settings seem like a good solution because they allow you to set your photos, posts, and profile to private, this is not necessarily the case. Your posts and profile may seem private, but you have still consented to give Facebook all of your information to share with whoever they please. Keep this in mind when you sign up for any social media site.
Twitter and Instagram Privacy
The Twitter and Instagram privacy policies both allow the social sites to use your information to sell or give to anyone they want. If you don't want Twitter and Instagram using your likes, dislikes, comments, friends, searches, name, email, school, your location, your private messages, and your pictures for whatever they choose, you simply shouldn't sign up for an account.
Instagram and Twitter do have privacy settings that allow only people who follow you to view your posts. This does not, however, keep the social sites from documenting and giving out your private photos and information to other companies and entities.
Email is a popular avenue for phishers/scammers, marketers, and strangers trying to steal your personal information. Here's how to protect yourself and your family from email scams, viruses and personal information theft via email.
- Don't even open emails from weird email addresses you don't know. They could include viruses that download upon opening or phishing schemes built to take your information.
- Don't click on links or download anything you're sent in an email from someone you don't know. You can't always tell malicious links from perfectly innocent ones until it's too late and you've already experienced an online security breach.
- Set your email account to filter out spam emails to avoid any issues.
When you download things online or click on certain links, you could be inviting spammers and hackers into your virtual life. Be careful when downloading software and other products online. Always make sure what you're clicking on is reliable before you make a move.
- Do not click on advertisements placed on spammy websites and posts. They could contain viruses, phishing sites, and spyware that takes over your computer or steals your information.
- Never enter your email, phone number or other personal information for access to random downloads. Always research what you're downloading beforehand.
A word of caution: even mobile apps can compromise your security. Your smartphone and tablet can fall prey to viruses and hackers just as your computer can, so follow the same rules for all of your devices.
Login Privacy and Password Protection
If you're worried about your passwords being stolen, there are certain steps to take to prevent it from happening.
- Create a password that is hard to guess.
- Try not to save your password on your computer or mobile phone.
- If you want to save passwords on your smartphone or web browser because you are constantly opening social sites, email, etc., use different passwords for all online accounts and keep a record of them.
- Change your passwords every so often.
- Use two-factor authentication on websites where it's available. Two-factor authentication is simply a way to require two steps instead of one in order to log in. For example, you can require a password and a secret question. You'll find this option in the security settings of sites like Facebook and other places you have accounts.
Tips to Protect Your Kids' Internet Privacy
From strangers and criminals trying to steal you or your child's identity to cyber-bullies and pornography, the internet harbors some of the most prominent risks to your child's safety. As a result, you need to know the best internet safety tips for kids to keep your kid's privacy safe online. We also have a guide full of tips for preventing child identity theft you can use as a resource.
Teaching Kid's About Internet Privacy
There are various general social media and internet practices you should teach your child before you allow them to use the internet, especially without your supervision. Here are some tips to teach your children to protect their privacy when they're surfing the web.
- Set all social profiles to private so strangers cannot easily view their posts, photos, and personal details.
- Teach kids not to accept friend requests or respond to messages from strangers. They will inevitably come across strangers on the internet, but they need to know that not everyone is who they appear to be.
- Keep up with social media privacy policies when they change.
- Choose only the most suitable cell phone plan for your kid(s) when you choose to buy your child(ren) a cell phone.
- Teach kids not to fill in or discuss details that are too personal; i.e. phone number, email, address, school, etc. You don't want these details in the wrong hands.
- Teach kids not to click on advertisements.
- Teach kids not to download anything from the internet.
- Teach kids not to sign up for suspicious email subscriptions or click on links or advertisements in random emails.
- Teach kids how to report/red-flag someone for inappropriate behavior and alert you when it happens.
- Set content filters on your web browser to make sure you're kids can only get onto safe sites online.
- Teach kids not to send pictures to strangers or post any inappropriate things.
- Have a conversation with your kids about behavior over the internet and review strategies for how to prevent cyberbullying.
On top of teaching your child these provisions, you should keep an eye on their online accounts to make sure there isn't any suspicious activity from strangers, viruses, phishing etc.
How to Set Parental Controls on an iPhone
It's easy to activate parental control settings on your child's iPhone.
1. Click on Settings, then head to General.
2. Scroll to Restrictions, then click Enable Restrictions and type in a passcode you'll remember.
The passcode will differ from the passcode already set for the phone. Then click confirm and you'll see options you can edit for your child's safety.
What To Do If Your Child's Device Is Hacked
If you think your child's device has been hacked, you can click here to make sure that's not the case. If so, you should immediately disable your child's account on every device it is active on. Once the account is disabled, change all passwords on any devices the account was connected to. You never know how much information has been stolen.
What Is Private Browsing?
Most web browsers contain privacy mode settings these days. When you turn privacy mode on, your computer or mobile phone will stop tracking your search history and web cache. Essentially, your data will not get stored to be shared with anyone on the internet when these settings are turned on. This is one way to protect your laptop privacy and cellphone privacy.
How to Turn Private Browsing on and Off
The process to turn private browsing on and off is different for every web browser. Here's how to turn each major web browser's privacy settings on and off.
- Safari Privacy - You can turn privacy settings on and off pretty easily on Safari. Open Safari and then click File > New Private Window. This will open a new window in which you can search without worrying about being tracked. If you want to open a non-private browser at the same time, you can just click File > New Window for tracked web surfing.
- FireFox Privacy - Click the menu button (with three lines) and click New Private Window to access private browsing in the FireFox browser. You can also open a link in a new private window by right-clicking the link and clicking on Open Link in New Private Window.
- Google Chrome Privacy - Google Chrome has an "Incognito Mode" option in which you can prevent data tracking. Click on the special menu at the top right in your browser. It will look like three dots on a Mac and three lines on Windows. From the menu, click on New Incognito Window to open private browsing.
- iPhone Privacy - If you own an iPhone, iPad, or iTouch, you can turn your privacy mode on pretty easily.
1. Open Safari and click on the icon with two layered squares to the bottom right on your screen
2. Click Private then click the + icon or click done. The window you are browsing in privately will turn black or dark instead of white or gray when it's on.
When you want to turn it off, click on the layered square icon again. Then click private to unhighlight it and click done again. You should see you screen switch from dark to light, meaning you're back to normal browsing mode.
There are a couple things you can do to keep your information safe on your Android smartphone. First, make sure it's encrypted to protect your data privacy. Do this by clicking on:
1. Settings, then the Personal Tab
2. Go to Encrypt Device.
3. Then it should say "encrypted". Then, you can try to turn off Google's sensing activity and backup settings.
To turn off sensing, click this link and then click the menu button at the top. Then click Activity Controls. Here is where you'll be able to disable the location tracking, Youtube history, and voice tracking. To turn off Google backup, click Settings > Backup and reset > Backup. Then, you can disable the entire thing or just disable what you don't want being stored on your phone.
If privacy mode isn't enough, you may want a private browser. The newest anonymous web browsers vow to protect their customer's valuable personal information from bots and anyone trying to analyze their information. Instead of just having a setting, these browsers are built to protect their users from leaving a trace on the internet. Here are some of the best browsers for privacy on the internet.
- Tor Browser - The Tor Browser is known as one of the most private web browsers. It protects its users' search history, private online messages, location, and other online activity from being tracked by cyber analytics. The Tor Browser is even used by the U.S. Navy and law enforcement agencies, so you know it's reliable. The cool thing about Tor is that you don't actually have to install it onto your laptop or cell phone; instead, you can use an application that lives on a USB drive. This way, you can ensure online security from any computer by simply plugging in the USB.
- Epic Browser - The Epic Privacy Browser is another great tool for those trying to protect their data privacy. Epic doesn't run on a specialized network like Tor, but it has various protective features for consumers. On Epic, you'll have built-in ad-blocking, your search history will not be saved, third-party cookies will not be allowed, web caches and DNS caches are not present, and you will not have to worry about an autofill feature. Additionally, when you close out the web browser, it will automatically delete any preferences and data from your session.
- Comodo Web Browser - Comodo is an internet security company that protects its customer's data privacy. The company has come out with three different web browsers including the Comodo Ice Dragon, Comodo Dragon (Chromium), and Comodo Chromium Secure. The Comodo Dragon is an older version of the Comodo Chromium Secure. Chromium Secure blocks tracking and has malware scanning, secure DNS, SSL, and domain validation. The Comodo Ice Dragon is based on Firefox and will scan every single page you visit for traces of malware and traffic tracking as soon as they load and alert you if it notices anything suspicious.
Other Options To Protect Your Online Privacy
- VPN Services - A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. The best VPN providers encrypt your internet connection, making it seem like you're accessing the internet from a location other than yours. Virtual Private Networks also prohibit bots and websites from accessing your traffic data; so they're a great option for someone who wants to encrypt all of their surfing and traffic data on smartphones, tablets, and computers instead of just on your web browser.
- Proxies - Similar to VPNs, proxies route your connection through a different web server to make it seem like you're surfing the web from a different location. The difference between a proxy and a VPN is that a proxy doesn't encrypt all of your traffic information like a VPN service does.
- File Encryption Applications - File encryption applications allow you to encrypt certain files on your smartphone or laptop even before they enter your device's cloud.
- Email Encryption - Keep important documents and your identity safe when emailing via encryption.
- Protect Your Wireless Network - Your wireless router comes with a default factory admin name and password. All someone has to do to hack into your devices is to be in close enough proximity to access your network, and enter this default information. Use your wireless router's model number to look up the factory settings so that you can go in and change them. Another thing: you should go into these settings every so often to download any firmware updates.
What to Do if You're Hacked
Next question: what should you do if someone does end up accessing sensitive information like your credit card numbers? Your first thought may be to go to law enforcement. You certainly can - and should - file a report with local police. Here's the problem: law enforcement officials don't typically have the technical skills - or the time - to address these kinds of crimes. You'll probably be on your own unless the safety of a minor is involved.
Don't panic: there are steps you can take to minimize the damage:
- Cancel your credit cards immediately.
- Go to any websites where you have stored your personal information or payment data and delete the info.
- If you don't have identity theft protection, get it.
- Monitor your credit report to watch for suspicious activity. Check out our guide to the free credit report services.
You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. While it's unlikely they'll hunt down the perpetrator, your complaint helps the Federal Trade Commission in tracking types and incidences of fraud and abuse.
Overall, online security is a huge deal in the internet age. As you've seen in this article, however, there are plenty of steps you can take to surf the web without worrying about marketers, strangers, criminals, and the government accessing you and your family's private information.
Now that you know how to maintain internet safety, you should also look into the internet providers in your area to make sure you're operating on a secure network. You can't be secure enough when you're using personal information like passwords and credit card numbers on the internet.