How to Protect Your Privacy Online

By Tim Chesonis •  Updated: 02/23/23 •  13 min read
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

You might think that the information you put out on the internet is safe and sound, but the reality is far from it. With hackers, cybercriminals, and even governments lurking around every corner, protecting your online privacy is more important than ever.

In this article, we’ll explore the importance of safeguarding your privacy on the internet, the risks associated with poor online privacy protection, and offer practical tips to keep your sensitive information secure. From password management and social media privacy to encryption and virtual private networks (VPNs), we’ll provide you with the tools and knowledge you need to navigate the online world safely and confidently. So, let’s dive in!

Why is online privacy important?

The internet has become a staple of our daily lives, providing us with access to a wealth of information and resources. However, with this increased connectivity comes a higher risk of exposing our personal data to hackers, cybercriminals, and even governments.

Personal Data and Identity Theft

In 2017, credit reporting agency Equifax suffered a massive data breach that affected more than 147 million people. The breach compromised sensitive personal information, including names, social security numbers, birth dates, and addresses. In some cases, credit card numbers and driver’s license data were also exposed. The breach highlighted the dangers of not protecting personal data and the importance of online privacy. In the aftermath of the breach, many affected individuals experienced fraudulent charges, credit card fraud, and other forms of identity theft. The incident underscores the importance of safeguarding your personal information and being proactive in protecting your online privacy.

Every time you browse the internet, create an account, or make a purchase, you’re leaving a digital footprint. This data can be used to track your online activity, steal your identity, or commit fraud. For example, hackers can use your personal information, such as your name, address, and social security number, to open credit accounts or file fraudulent tax returns in your name.

Cyberbullying and Harassment

In 2013, a popular online game called “League of Legends” implemented a new player behavior system to combat toxicity and harassment in the game. The new system aimed to improve the overall community experience by identifying and punishing players who exhibited toxic behavior. However, the system was also used to dox and harass players who spoke out against the game’s developer. Players who criticized the developer’s decisions were doxed, with their personal information, including full name, phone number, and home address, posted online. The harassment led to some players receiving threats and even having their employers contacted. This incident shows the dangers of not protecting personal data and the importance of online privacy.

Social media and messaging apps have made it easier for people to connect with each other. Unfortunately, these same platforms have also created new opportunities for cyberbullying and harassment. Online harassment can take many forms, including trolling, hate speech, and even doxing. These actions can be emotionally and psychologically damaging to victims.

Government Surveillance and Data Breaches

In 2015, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) suffered a massive data breach, affecting more than 21 million people. The breach compromised personal information, including Social Security numbers, background investigation records, and fingerprints. The breach was attributed to Chinese hackers and highlighted the importance of securing government networks and safeguarding personal data. The incident has led to increased scrutiny of the government’s cybersecurity practices and the potential risk of government surveillance.

Governments and corporations have access to vast amounts of personal data. While some of this data collection may be necessary for security or business purposes, it also raises concerns about government surveillance and data breaches. For example, if a government agency or corporation experiences a data breach, your personal information, including your name, address, and financial data, may be compromised.

Ad Targeting and Online Tracking

In 2021, a report from revealed that Facebook had been sharing user data with third-party companies without user consent. The data sharing was part of Facebook’s ad targeting practices and involved giving access to personal information, such as name, email address, and phone number, to companies for advertising purposes. The report highlighted the lack of transparency in Facebook’s data practices and the potential for online tracking to be used for nefarious purposes.

Websites and online services collect data about your browsing habits and use it to target you with personalized ads. While targeted ads can be useful, they can also feel invasive and creepy. Moreover, online tracking can be used to create a detailed profile of your interests, behaviors, and preferences, which can then be sold to third-party companies without your knowledge or consent.

In short, online privacy is crucial for safeguarding your personal information and protecting yourself from cybercrime, harassment, and government surveillance.

Tips to Protect Your Online Privacy

In this section, we’ll explore some practical tips and strategies to help you protect your online privacy. These tips range from securing your accounts and devices to limiting the personal information you share online, and can help reduce your risk of exposure to online threats.

Use strong passwords and enable two-factor authentication

  • Don’t reuse passwords across multiple accounts. Use a unique and strong password for each account, and use a password manager to securely store and generate them.
  • Use passphrases instead of passwords. A passphrase is a longer sequence of words that is easier to remember and harder for hackers to guess.
  • Consider using hardware-based two-factor authentication, such as a physical security key or biometric authentication, for added security. These methods are more secure than text-based two-factor authentication as they cannot be intercepted by hackers.
  • Use a passwordless authentication method, such as FIDO2, which uses public key cryptography to verify your identity without requiring a password. This can be a more secure and convenient way to access your online accounts.

Be cautious of public Wi-Fi and use a VPN

  • Consider using a virtual machine to connect to public Wi-Fi instead of your primary device. This way, if your virtual machine is compromised, your personal information and files will not be at risk.
  • Use a VPN with strong encryption to protect your online activity and data from being intercepted by hackers or government surveillance. Avoid free VPN services as they may sell your data or use weak encryption that is easily bypassed.
  • Disable auto-connect to Wi-Fi networks on your devices. This will prevent your device from automatically connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, which could potentially expose your data to hackers.
  • Use a Wi-Fi analyzer tool to determine the security level of a public Wi-Fi network before connecting to it. This can help you avoid connecting to networks that are poorly secured and therefore more susceptible to attacks.

Control your social media presence

  • Regularly audit your social media accounts for third-party apps that have access to your data. Remove any apps that you no longer use or that you don’t trust.
  • Turn off location sharing on your social media accounts to prevent others from tracking your whereabouts.
  • Don’t use your full name or personal information in your social media handles or usernames. This can make it harder for strangers to find you online and potentially misuse your information.
  • Use a browser extension or app that can manage your social media privacy settings across all of your accounts to ensure your privacy preferences are consistent.

Avoid clicking on suspicious links and emails

  • Always hover over a link to see the URL before clicking on it. If the URL looks suspicious, don’t click on it.
  • Use a tool like Google’s Safe Browsing to check whether a website is safe before visiting it.
  • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) for all of your online accounts to prevent unauthorized access even if a hacker obtains your password.
  • Use disposable email addresses when signing up for online services or filling out forms. This can prevent your primary email address from being flooded with spam or being targeted by phishing attacks.

Use ad-blocking software

  • Use a trusted ad-blocking software to block ads and prevent tracking cookies from being installed on your browser.
  • Configure your ad-blocking software to block third-party cookies, which can track your browsing activity across multiple sites.
  • Consider using a script-blocking extension or app to block scripts on web pages, which can prevent malicious scripts from running on your browser.
  • Be mindful of any website that asks you to disable your ad-blocker. Some sites may require you to do this in order to access their content, but be cautious and consider the risks before doing so.

Clear your browser history and cookies regularly

  • Set your browser to automatically clear your history and cookies when you close it.
  • Use a tool like CCleaner to clean up any leftover traces of your online activity, such as temporary files and cache data.
  • Consider using a private browsing mode or a separate browser for sensitive activities, such as online banking or shopping.
  • Review your browser’s privacy settings and configure them to your preferences. For example, you may want to disable third-party cookies or prevent sites from tracking your location.

By following these tips, you can help protect your online privacy and keep your personal information secure. However, it’s important to remember that protecting your online privacy is an ongoing process, and it’s important to stay vigilant and proactive.

Best Practices for Online Privacy

In this section, we’ll explore some of the best practices for protecting your online privacy. These tips and strategies can help you minimize your digital footprint, reduce your exposure to online threats, and keep your personal information safe and secure.

Regularly update software and hardware

  • Enable automatic updates for your software and hardware to ensure that you always have the latest security patches and updates.
  • Regularly check for and install firmware updates for your router and other network devices.
  • Uninstall unused or outdated software and apps to reduce your risk of exposure to vulnerabilities.
  • Disable unused features or services, such as Bluetooth or NFC, to minimize the attack surface of your devices.

Use encryption for online communication

  • Use end-to-end encryption tools, such as Signal, to secure your messaging and calls.
  • Consider using a password-protected ZIP file or other encryption software to secure files and documents that contain sensitive information.
  • Look for virtual private network (VPN) services that offer strong encryption, kill switches, and other security features.
  • Be mindful of the limitations of encryption and avoid sharing sensitive information over unsecured channels, such as public Wi-Fi networks.

Read privacy policies and terms of service carefully

  • Look for services that offer a clear and concise privacy policy and terms of service.
  • Pay attention to how your data will be used and who it will be shared with.
  • Avoid using services that require you to grant overly broad permissions or that collect more data than necessary.
  • Consider using a privacy-focused search engine, such as DuckDuckGo, that does not collect or store your search history.

Limit the amount of personal information you share online

  • Use a password manager to create unique and complex passwords for your online accounts.
  • Use a disposable email address or a pseudonym to avoid exposing your real email address.
  • Consider using a virtual credit card or disposable credit card number to limit your exposure to fraud.
  • Avoid posting sensitive information, such as your full name, birthdate, or address, on social media or other online platforms.

Be aware of your digital footprint

  • Use privacy-focused browser extensions, such as Privacy Badger or uBlock Origin, to block online trackers and prevent data collection.
  • Use privacy settings on social media to limit who can see your posts and personal information.
  • Use the “Incognito” or “Private Browsing” mode in your web browser to prevent cookies and browsing history from being saved.
  • Consider using a dedicated email address or phone number for online services and purchases to limit your exposure to spam and unwanted marketing.

Online Privacy Tools and Resources

In this section, we’ll explore some of the best online privacy tools and resources available to help you protect your personal information and minimize your digital footprint. From password managers and virtual private networks (VPNs) to privacy-focused web browsers and search engines, these tools and resources can help you take control of your online privacy and stay safe and secure online.

Password Managers

  • Password managers can help you generate and store complex passwords for all of your accounts.
  • Some popular password managers include LastPass, Dashlane, and 1Password.
  • These tools can also help you autofill login credentials, which can save time and reduce the risk of typos and errors.

Privacy-Focused Search Engines

  • Privacy-focused search engines, such as DuckDuckGo and StartPage, do not track or store your search history.
  • These search engines use encrypted connections to protect your search queries from prying eyes.
  • Consider using these search engines to reduce your exposure to targeted ads and other online tracking.

Ad-Blocking and Anti-Tracking Software

  • Ad-blocking and anti-tracking software, such as uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger, can help you block ads and prevent websites from tracking your online activity.
  • These tools can also help you speed up your browsing experience and reduce your data usage.
  • Consider using these tools to protect your privacy and improve your online experience.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)

  • Virtual private networks (VPNs) encrypt your internet connection and protect your online activity from eavesdropping and interception.
  • Some popular VPN services include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and Surfshark.
  • Consider using a VPN to protect your privacy when using public Wi-Fi networks or accessing sensitive online content.

Privacy-Focused Web Browsers

  • Privacy-focused web browsers, such as Tor and Brave, offer enhanced privacy and security features, such as built-in ad-blocking and anti-tracking tools.
  • These browsers use encrypted connections and can help protect your online activity from being monitored or intercepted.
  • Consider using these browsers for online activities that require a higher level of privacy and security.

For more information on these online tools and privacy resources, you can visit the following websites:

Closing Thoughts

Protecting your online privacy is essential in today’s digital world. By taking steps to secure your accounts and devices, limit your personal information, and control your digital footprint, you can reduce your exposure to online threats and stay safe and secure online.

Remember, online privacy protection is an ongoing process, and it’s important to stay vigilant and proactive. By following the tips and best practices we’ve discussed in this article, you can take control of your online privacy and protect your personal information from being exposed or compromised.

So, what are you waiting for? Take action now and start implementing these tips and strategies to protect your online privacy. Whether it’s securing your accounts with strong passwords and two-factor authentication, using ad-blocking software and VPNs, or being mindful of your digital footprint, every step you take can make a difference.

Tim Chesonis

Tim loves writing and helping people succeed. He brings a wealth of wisdom and insight from an entrepreneur's perspective, loves Linux, his iPhone and his iPad. When he's not writing another article, he's probably binge-watching “The Middle” or “Breaking Bad”, (again). To learn more about Tim, click here.