More and more, we spend our lives in the digital world. But, every organization we interact with digitally wants to keep something from us. They ask us for information such as logins, contact details, location and even browsing history, to keep our accounts secure, deliver more personalized experiences and leverage their relationship with us.
"The more websites and apps you use to share personal and account information, the more likely you are to have your information compromised – if one of those companies is compromised, or if you become the target of an attack," says Phil Muncaster of the digital security firm ESET.
A smart move would be to limit the amount of information we share with these organizations and the information we post online to mitigate any resulting risks to our security and privacy.
“Limiting what you post and share online is important in a digital world increasingly populated by cyber crooks and malicious data brokers. But, with so much information scattered across so many websites, accounts and devices, you might not know where to start," says the expert from ESET and notes the 10 steps to help us get started.
Ten ways to reduce your digital footprint
Do not complete online surveys
The internet is full of contests and prize offers, often in exchange for completing online surveys. Most of the time these are covert marketing campaigns to build a contact list. Other times they may be malicious actions designed to steal your personal information for use in phishing campaigns and/or for sale on the dark web.
Keep your location private
One of the most intrusive forms of data logging is that which tracks your location. From this, third parties can compile a highly accurate picture of your daily movements and habits. This not only puts your digital privacy at risk, but can also put your physical safety at risk. Be sure to stop apps that track your location.
Be ruthless with them newsletters
Brands are very involved with digital newsletters. They believe it enables them to communicate directly with their customers and provide them with personalized content and offers. But for many of us, online newsletters do little more than fill our inboxes. Resist the urge to sign up. Alternatively, use a dedicated email address or a disposable email account, especially if you're signing up for something you only plan to use once.
Download fewer apps
Mobile applications often require users to provide a significant amount of personal and/or financial information in order to function as intended. They may also track your location, browsing activity, and other information that is then shared with third parties. It stands to reason that the fewer apps you have, the less exposed your information will be.
Not downloading the apps first and asking questions later, quite the opposite. Do your research before deciding if it's something you really need.
It goes without saying that you should regularly "spring clean" your devices to remove any apps you haven't used in a while. While doing so, check the permissions for any apps you decide to keep.
Create fewer accounts and start cleaning up the ones you already have
Companies don't just want your order. They want your loyalty. This is why many will push you to create accounts and share information that can be leveraged that way. It could be anything from an e-commerce store to a media website. Resist the temptation to do so, even if it means that your payment and other details will not be saved the next time you visit the online store. A little inconvenience is often the price we pay for greater privacy and security. If over the years you have created online accounts that you no longer need and use, close them.
Do not give out sensitive data
Sometimes sharing information is unavoidable to get the goods or services you want. But be careful what you reveal. Unless absolutely necessary, don't share phone numbers, email and home addresses, financial information and social security numbers, which are in high demand in the dark world of cybercrime. Emails and phone numbers can be used, for example, to send phishing emails. Use guest accounts when shopping online to further reduce risk.
Think twice before sharing on social media
Social media is like a digital megaphone. For many of us, the content we share will be liked, re-shared and virtually impossible to remove or retire once it's out in cyberspace. Therefore, it is important to first consider how this content may be received by others and prospective employers. And if it contains sensitive information about your work and personal life. Also, consider limiting your profile to your online friends/contacts and not adding anyone you don't know in real life. Review your privacy preferences.
Exercise the right to erasure ("right to be forgotten")
In some parts of the world, including the European Union, the data subject can request the erasure of personal data concerning him. The so-called "right to be forgotten" is defined under the EU's GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation - GDPR). Search the internet for your name to see what's out there and contact website owners directly to request the deletion. Then contact search engines like Google to do the same.
Cookies are tiny files that are downloaded to your computer or device when you visit a website. They are used by the website owners to profile their visitors and save their preferences for future visits. While this may make your browsing experience better, many of us would prefer not to share this type of information, which may include usernames and passwords. If you are given the option when visiting a website, simply decline to accept cookies. You can also disable third-party tracking by going to your browser's privacy settings.
Reduce the number of devices you use
Finally, consider how many devices and computers you use. Each of these devices is a potential treasure trove of data that could be exposed if the device is lost or stolen. Do you really need to buy this new tablet? If the answer is still yes, do you need to sync all your personal data to it?
Continue in the same way
The principle of data minimization is a best practice for the organizations we interact with every day, as it helps reduce their exposure to regulatory risks. With caveat, one could say that it is also a best practice for the data subjects themselves – i.e. all of us – to enhance our security and privacy as we browse the internet.