Protecting Your Privacy Online
The world wide web offers us conveniences that previous generations never dreamed of, but not without a cost.
Whether we’re surfing the web, shopping for gifts, sharing on social media or using email, online activities come with risks to our privacy. In fact, a recent study noted roughly 9 out of 10 Canadians expressed some level of concern about the protection of their personal privacy, with 37% extremely concerned. 
Every time you visit a website, click a link or purchase a product online, you leave a data trail. These trails are of great interest to marketers. Whenever you post info, opinions or personal photos to social media, your words and images live on in cyberspace. Cyber criminals have ways to access your financial and other important personal information. Does that mean you have no control over your data? Absolutely not! You can improve your online privacy.
Before conducting any online transaction, you should ask these questions:
- Who is collecting my information?
- Is it necessary to give my information for the transaction?
- What will be done with my information?
- What are the consequences of providing my information?
Check your social media settings
Your social media networks store a treasure trove of information about you. By default, much of it is visible to anyone. Check your privacy settings to decide what info you want to share with the entire world, your friends or just you. For example, if you are posting photos of your children, be sure your privacy settings are such that only trusted family and friends see your photos. Also limit your sharing privileges, so even those with whom you share your photos cannot share them with others.
Never use public storage for private information
Crashed hard drives, shattered smartphones, stolen iPads, these are today’s digital nightmares. While we may lose devices, we don’t want to lose our data. Thank goodness for cloud storage. Not so fast! Public cloud storage, like Google Docs and Dropbox, is no place for password storage or passport scans. Public storage is prone to attacks by hackers and the host may collection information about you. It is better to back up your photos and data on private storage (like a few external drives) for personal information.
Give trackers the slip
When you visit a website, your browser provides information about you and your surfing history. To keep your info safe, use your browser’s private browsing mode and be sure to update cookie settings so that you do not accept third-party cookies. Emptying your cache and cookies is also a best practice to clear your browser of unwanted tracking cookies. You may have to re-enter a few passwords on your favourite sites, but it is well worth the security.
Prevent your email from being “harvested” and used by unscrupulous marketers. Use a primary email address for trusted contacts and then additional addresses for use in online activities. This way the additional addresses can be changed if they are harvested and you start receiving spam. While most people know not to open, and certainly not click attachments from unknown sources, you should view all emails with a critical eye. Even emails from trusted colleagues and friends can contain malware if they have been hacked. Always report unsolicited emails  to help contain their spread.
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