With each passing year, we’re spending more of our time — and money — online than off.
In 2020, U.S. online sales reached $791 billion, up 32 percent from the year prior. Even as the world reopens, one behavioral survey found that 37 percent of people are more likely to buy most items online than they were before lockdowns.
At the same time, data breaches are at an all-time high. Last year broke records, with reports of identity theft doubling. One survey found that nearly three quarters of organizations have suffered data breaches in the past calendar year, and retailers from Target to T-Mobile have fallen victim to attacks.
It’s more important than ever to take steps to protect your online privacy. As tech platforms and features evolve, it can be hard for even the most adept to keep up, but it doesn’t have to be.
As an entrepreneur focused on decentralized, private technology, I’ve tested and built several tools that help people change their digital hygiene. Here are my top three tips to help you change your habits and better protect your privacy online.
3 Easy Ways to Protect Your Privacy Online
- Shop local — and offline.
- Change your default browser and search settings.
- Update your Wi-Fi settings.
Shop Local and Shop Offline
Shopping locally is not just a good way to support small businesses, it also protects your personal privacy. Avoiding big-box retailers protects your shopping habits from being turned into advertising data, which is targeted right back at you the next time you watch a YouTube video or scroll Instagram.
As Amazon continues to gain market share, it’s capturing your data along with it. Other top retailers like eBay and Home Depot have fallen victim to security breaches, compromising millions of peoples’ information in the process. Making the simple shift to shopping locally — particularly as travel rebounds and around the holidays — can make a big difference for both your community and your personal privacy.
Change Your Default Browser and Search Settings
We all have our routines and habits we don’t even think twice about. Browsing and searching the web is one of them.
Today, Google accounts for 92 percent of all searches, but the company is notoriously bad when it comes to privacy. The good news is that there are several privacy-focused alternatives that you can change your default settings to, including DuckDuckGo and Presearch. (Disclaimer: I founded Presearch.) Switching to one of these search engines on all of your devices — including your computer, tablet and smartphone — will prevent you from being aggressively tracked online.
These good habits should extend to browsing as well. Download a browser such as Firefox or Tor, and turn cookies off in your browser by default. (See guides here for Google Chrome, Safari, and Firefox.)
Update Your Wi-Fi Settings
Have you ever browsed your phone in a car and noticed it jump on and off of Wi-Fi? Many devices automatically join accessible Wi-Fi networks, even on the go. This can leave you vulnerable to having your information stolen on unsecured networks. Stop your phone from automatically joining networks by going to your phone’s settings and only connect to the Wi-Fi in places you trust.
Here's how to stop your smartphone from automatically joining unsecured Wi-Fi networks:
- In iPhone settings: Tap Wi-Fi > Ask to Join Networks > Ask.
- In Android settings: Tap Network & Internet > Wi-Fi > Wi-Fi Preferences > toggle Connect to Public Networks off.
If you do have to connect to Wi-Fi in public, never enter your credit card or other sensitive information. Paying the bills can wait until you’re at home and on a trusted network.
The same goes for downloading new software and apps. Only use what you trust, and make sure it’s from a legitimate provider. If you’re unsure, start by checking that the website has an SSL Certificate. This can save you from being exposed to a virus.
Avoid adopting the mindset that your privacy doesn’t matter. It does, and your personal information is worth protecting.
Along with the tips above, simple steps like using a password manager and checking to see if you’ve been exposed in a data breach can help you stay more aware of your privacy.
Making just a small effort to change your habits pays big returns when it comes to better protecting ourselves online.