Whether you’re a digital native or whether you’ve grown accustomed to life with the internet over time, imagining a world without a massive virtual landscape can feel downright unfathomable. But how often do we really consider the price we pay for these online conveniences? How often do we consider how we’re protecting our online privacy?
The truth is, people are indeed worried about their data being misused online. In fact, 80% of online users in the U.S. are concerned their data is vulnerable to hackers. So online users must be taking steps to protect their sensitive data and personal information — taking steps to protect their online privacy.
5 Places We Compromise Our Online Privacy in 2021
It turns out; this isn’t always the case. For perspective, surveys show people also consider their browser history as costly as a Big Mac meal. That’s about $6. This disconnect in our concerns about online privacy and our actual attempts to protect our online privacy is known as the privacy paradox. And it’s something all online users should be aware of in 2021 — and aware that they need to break their privacy-compromising habits online.
To help put online users on the right path, we’re shedding light on the locations we most commonly put our online privacy at risk.
Why Should We Care About Online Privacy?
Cybercriminals and marketers alike care about your online privacy — briding it, that is — which is why you should care about your online privacy, too.
Sure, targeted marketing efforts might not bother you. Maybe you even like to see that new face wash you’ve been looking for appearing as an ad on your social media feeds. But your data can be used for more than just these advertisements.
After data brokers have a hold on your data, there’s no telling where it may be. This leaves you vulnerable to cyber attacks like identity theft and even extortion. Recovering from these attacks is not a pretty process. It can take years to get your life back in order. That’s why it’s important to stay informed about how we’re putting our personal data on the line when we go online.
The longer we remain complacent about protecting our online privacy, the greater the incentive is for cybercriminals to strike, including in the form of data breaches; by defending yourself and equipping others to do the same, you can be a part of the efforts to de-incentivize these criminals and keep the internet safe.
5 Places We Sacrifice Our Online Privacy
Many of our regular online behaviors make us vulnerable to cyber threats, and we don’t even know it. Yet, opinions as to who should be responsible for protecting user data vary. Should governments, companies, individuals themselves be in charge of protecting our online privacy? At the end of the day, your personal information and data are just that — yours. So it’s up to you to go the extra mile to ensure it stays safe.
Luckily, it’s easier than one might think to protect your online privacy. Just consider some of these popular platforms and sites that pose risks to your online privacy. And also, consider how simple it is to break your privacy-compromising habits risks so that you can navigate the web with peace of mind.
1. Food Delivery Platforms
Food delivery isn’t a new concept. But modern apps and services have revolutionized the food delivery industry by making the process faster and easier than ever. The pandemic further popularized these options, as people everywhere began avoiding restaurants in favor of ordering in.
However, we give a lot of information to these apps, from our names to our addresses to our credit card information. Well-orchestrated phishing scams can trick people into sending their data over to malicious hackers, compromising user safety and online privacy.
The best way to prevent your data from being hacked is to input your information manually for each transaction. Don’t save your data for faster checkout next time. While it may feel like an added hassle, taking a few extra seconds to do this each time will put you at significantly lesser risk in the event of a data breach.
If you do make an account and save your information, use strong and unique passwords. And opt into 2-factor authentication, if available. This is the next best way to protect your data from cyber-attacks.
2. Social Media
People spent a lot of time on social media before the pandemic. Upon its onset, screen time has increased, with surveys showing half of the population spends at least 30 minutes per day on social media. Many interactions can happen in those 30 minutes, from saving posts to liking content to clicking links to online retailers.
We also provide a lot of personal information to our social media apps, from our date of birth to our employment history to our deepest subconscious interests. It’s often cited that social media sites know more about us than our closest friends do.
The best way to protect your online privacy on social media is to keep your account private. Also, limit what you share in your “about” section. And be aware of how your privacy settings are configured.
3. Video Games
Just as the pandemic impacted most other areas of life, our time spent enjoying indoor leisure activities skyrocketed. Online gaming alone increased by 39% during shelter-in-place months. Unfortunately, even in play, cybercriminals are looking for opportunities to infiltrate data and intercept messages.
One less obvious risk involves how hardware used in video games connects you to others, from cameras to microphones to screen-sharing tools. When we create accounts to play online games, we provide account login information, personal information, and sometimes payment methods. Hackers are experts at using even inactive devices to retrieve information.
Prevent your account information and other data from being stolen and sold by using a VPN to encrypt your activity when playing video games. Of course, it’s also a good idea to use the strong and unique login information that would be challenging for even experienced hackers to obtain.
4. Video Conferencing
If the pandemic has taught students, educators, and the workforce anything, it’s how to navigate remote communication tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts. The student’s desk and the worker’s office were replaced with a hybrid home-bedroom-office space.
When stay-at-home orders were at their peak, even major CEOs and politicians used virtual platforms to connect and discuss pressing matters. Many still do. Needless to say, a virtual environment provides ample incentive for cybercriminals to strike.
While the Wi-Fi at your workplace is probably up to par with the highest standards of security, many homes do not have this same protection. When on a video call, our surroundings, voices, and the information we speak is clear to the person on the other side of the camera. However, there may be a third party listening in through an unsecured Wi-Fi network.
Hackers commonly use malicious software such as spyware to watch and listen even when you’re no longer on a call. Luckily, there are several steps you can take to upgrade your security and protect yourself from spyware.
Firstly, be aware of everything that could be in your device’s camera’s view. This angle may be wider than you think, and it may be worth opting for a virtual background. When not in use, consider covering your camera with a piece of opaque tape or using a sliding cover that you can attach next to your camera. Make sure your router is updated, and your settings are secure, and ideally, use a VPN to deter cybercriminals.
5. IoT Fitness Devices
The fitness devices we carry around are beneficial—they hold us accountable to an exercise routine when the pandemic keeps us sitting down. They tell us what we could do to better our health, and they can even be stylish and fun accessories. Among other IoT devices, fitness devices have only become increasingly popular as time has gone on, with 127 new ones coming online every second. This makes the need to enhance our IoT cybersecurity more important than ever.
These devices can collect a lot of information about us, from data on our health to financial information to the conversations we have in the device’s vicinity. Why, you may ask? It’s their job. We need our FitBits and Apple Watches to remember what we do and what we want so that they can provide us with helpful information and reminders.
Like several other devices we use regularly, many IoT fitness devices prefer to offer their consumers the convenience of single-factor authentication over 2-factor authentication. Although it makes the user’s life easier, this decision puts the user at greater risk of cyber attacks from unwelcome and often invisible parties.
While it’s easy to instinctively give all of our apps every permission they ask for, it’s a good idea to limit permissions like location services and microphone access only to the apps that need them. Otherwise, your devices may become easy targets for infiltration.
Ultimately, how much online privacy you’re willing to sacrifice is up to you. While the risk of a cyber attack shouldn’t keep you up at night, it’s a good idea to take the steps that aren’t too difficult to be as safe as you can. The conveniences of the internet will be at your fingertips even after safeguarding your online privacy, so why not enjoy both?
Image Credit: cristian rojas; pexels; thank you!
Sarah Pfledderer has over a decade of writing and editing experience in magazine journalism and blogging. She specializes in lifestyle topics and occasionally dabbles in tech. By day, she is a content marketing specialist at Siege Media.