We live in a world of constant technology use and lots of sharing. Technology has made it easier for families, friends, co-workers, and long-lost classmates to connect, and our online lives are just as important to us as our offline ones. But what you share doesn’t always stay within those circles and can be shared much more broadly than expected. Sometimes our technology gets out of our control.
So, what can you do? Here are some quick ways to ensure that your tech use and sharing is done a little bit more safely. Although these may sound simple, these are some of the easiest things to forget to do and some of the easiest ways to lose control and privacy.
Log out of your online accounts and apps when you’re not using them. This is how someone else can post something outrageous on your Timeline or feed. Logging out of your account is even more important if you’re using someone else’s device. Uncheck the “keep me logged in” feature and don’t allow the web browser to remember your password to automatically log you in. Doing so will make it easy for anyone to pick up your computer, tablet or smartphone, and post away, pretending to be you.
Use passwords to prevent strangers, parents (if you have nosy parents), and children (if you have nosy children) from accessing your accounts. Don’t use the same password for more than one account, a password that someone who knows you can easily guess, or a one-word password that can be easily cracked. Create a password system so that you use unique passwords only you will know. Read more about password safety.
Review the privacy settings on all your online accounts, particularly your social media ones. Most sites allow users to limit what others see, whether it’s status updates or profile information. Don’t forget that it’s more than just social networks like Facebook or Twitter that have privacy settings. Most online accounts, such as Amazon, allow you to limit who can see your profile information.
Smart phones have GPS location capability and you could be sharing your location without even realizing it. You can control which app has access to your location by turning off that option through your smart phone. (Most phones have location privacy options in the settings.) Some social network sites also allow you to manage your location privacy through the site’s privacy settings.
Did you know that when you take a picture on your smart phone, you could inadvertently share your location as well? That means that the selfie you just posted and uploaded online could contain your exact GPS coordinates. You can turn off that capability through the privacy setting on your camera app. Don’t forget that even if you turned off the location option for your camera app, the photo sharing app that you’re using may share your location—so turn off the location option for the app as well.
You can connect your Instagram to your Facebook or your Pinterest account to other social networks—this may make it easier to update them all with just one click. But this also means that a lot more people will have access to lots of info about you. It also makes it more difficult to lock down your privacy. So be thoughtful about which social media accounts you connect.
Free internet is always awesome. But you pay for it by being more vulnerable to risks. Using open wireless networks at your local coffee shop or community centre can leave you susceptible to hackers accessing your private information. If you’re going to check bank accounts, buy something where you have to give your credit card information, or do anything sensitive, wait until you are back on a secure network. And, if your personal wireless network doesn’t have a password on it, put a password on it.
Not all websites are created equal. Some sites are more vulnerable to viruses, which makes your computer/tablet more vulnerable. However, some sites have a secure version – you can tell by looking at the link in the URL address bar. If it starts with https, it’s a secure page vs. http, which is just a normal page. (The next time you’re checking your bank account or buying something online, check out the address bar; it’ll probably be green.)
The easiest way to ensure that you’re using the secure page whenever you can, is to download the HTTPS-everywhere browser add-in. Each time you go to a site, it’ll try to open the secure (https) site rather than the normal one. If the site doesn’t have a secure page, it’ll default to the normal page.
Currently, as of March 2019, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Explorer allow you to browse privately. Basically, privately browsing means that someone can’t open your web browser after you’ve used it and go through the history to see what you’ve been up to. Browsing privately is safer if you’re using a friend’s computer or tablet or are on a public computer. Keep in mind though that you have to close the browser to erase your history. If you leave it open, users after you can still see your browsing history.
Email addresses are free, so have as many as you want! You can use one specific email address with a super strong password for your banking and shopping. Use another email for all the junk mail and accounts you have to create in order to use a particular web service.
You could even consider using different email addresses for different social media accounts. Using different emails for different accounts is safer because if someone guesses one of your email + password combo, they don’t have access to all your accounts. You can even go one step further and download a service that “masks” your account address, so that you’re never using your actual email address.
©2019 BC Society of Transition Houses, Technology Safety Project.
Adapted from and in cooperation with the Safety Net Technology Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, United States