10 Actions You Should Take to Ensure Your Digital Privacy

They are watching...(Photo: Tetra Images)

Jul 25, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Andrew Freeman is a California native with a degree in history from UCLA. He is particularly interested in politics and policy.

Know your information is unprotected.

Before the Internet, cloud storage and phones without cords, your forefathers created these awesome things called Fourth Amendment rights, which protected you from unlawful search and seizure of your property and belongings. Those still exist, but they don’t cover digital property and data.

So what does? The Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which was passed in 1986, when Ronald Reagan was president, Al Gore hadn’t yet invented the Internet and the Berlin Wall was still up. Needless to say, it’s a little outdated, which means the law is open to dangerously broad interpretation. Meaning you should…

Think twice about what you’re putting in your emails.

A document on your computer is protected from search by the Fourth Amendment (requiring a warrant), but one attached to your email (stored on a company’s server) is not. The government doesn’t need a warrant to look through emails more than than 180 days old. Some of us—we’re looking at you, Mom—store emails for years without deleting them.

Don’t want to be tracked? Ditch the phone.

Your phone is a tracking device. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act allows the government to request your cell phone carrier to ping your exact location. Moreover, every iPhone user is used to enabling an application to access their data, like “location services,” giving numerous businesses access to your location, so you should…

Think twice before sharing your personal information.

Although the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2010 that the Constitution protects the personal information that we share with a third-party provider, it isn’t the law of the land (yet).

Your username and password mean nothing. No, really.

As this WSJ graphic shows, some sites play pretty loose with their users’ information and share it with advertisers. A 2011 study found that 56 of 100 popular websites leaked personal data about their users to third parties (ever wonder why you’re starting to see ads for those shoes you want?).

Know which companies have your back.

Despite the government not needing a search warrant to access your data, some companies are asking the government to provide one before just handing over a user’s personal info. Do some research about which companies are willing to go to bat for your rights.

Know how to set your social media privacy settings.

According to a 2010 study, social media users under 30 are more likely to adjust their privacy settings. Meanwhile, only 55 percent of users 50-64-years-old do the same. Young adults are also more likely to delete comments or photos that could jeopardize potential political careers or reveal embarrassing stuff to the folks in HR.

Fight for your right to privacy.

A study by USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that more millennials are willing to share their personal information than those older than 35. While this might make you think millennials don’t care about their rights to privacy, the numbers tell a different story

Seventy percent of millennials and 77 percent of those over 35 agreed that “No one should ever be allowed to access my personal data or web behaviors.”

You are not alone in wanting privacy. Do something about updating the law today.

Limit who can see your personal information

Your Internet browser accepts cookies by default. Cookies have some necessary and useful functions, like storing your usernames passwords, and form data, but remember that you are logged into a website. Cookies also enable websites you visit to access your browsing history.

You can prevent having your browsing history shared with every site you visit by refusing to take their cookies. Internet browsers like Mozilla’s Firefox (which offers private browsing) and Google Chrome (with their “Incognito window”) have this functionality built in.

If you want to control what information you share with other websites, there’s a service called Disconnect. The brainchild of a computer engineer and a privacy rights attorney, Disconnect will stop sites from tracking your history, encrypt the personal data you want to share, and speed up your browser.

Decipher the terms and conditions before you sign

You’re starting an account, and are almost signed up, but there’s that tiny check box followed by the words “I agree to all terms or conditions” with a link to pages upon pages of terms and conditions you’re agreeing to.

Have you ever actually read all the terms and conditions?

If you answered no, Terms of Service Didn’t Read might be for you. The browser add-on grades all the legal jargon and lets you know if your information is being protected or abused before you sign.