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Protect Your Online Privacy

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By: Megan Anderle, October 10, 2014

We carry our phones everywhere we go, using them for shopping, texting, social media, and navigation. All those apps — many of which are downloaded for free — make our lives simpler and more fun. But they do come with a hidden cost: Many companies use the apps to collect personal data, which is later sold to partner companies.

“There’s an enormously profitable industry that makes a lot of money off tracking your behavior,” says Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology. In part 1 of our report on digital footprints, we examined how and why businesses track customers. The conclusion: While much of the collected data is used for harmless means, complete online privacy is nearly impossible.

Real Business asked Hall for tips on how to protect yourself:

1. Be Extra Careful on Phones and Tablets. While it’s possible to install add-ons to limit Web tracking on laptop and desktop browsers, mobile devices are a different story, Hall says. Making use of privacy settings of apps and a mobile device’s OS certainly doesn’t hurt, though.

2. Delete Apps You Don’t Use. The more free apps you install, the more personal information you’ll give up. To limit further data collection, delete the apps you don’t need, because they continue tracking even when they’re not in use.

3. Use a Password Manager. “[A CTO] once told me, keep your passwords like your [underwear],” Hall says. “Keep them exotic, secret, and change them often. That always stuck with me.” A password manager can keep track of all your confidential phrases and generate new, unique ones each time you log in. Hall says he has more than 1,200 passwords for all his accounts, and he only remembers two of them. One of them, arguably the most important, is the password for his password manager account.

4. Keep Your Private Stuff Private. Last month, hackers accessed dozens of celebrities’ private photos and leaked them into the public domain.  It’s possible that they deleted those pics from their devices and thought they were gone forever. But of course, they were still accessible.

The only foolproof protection: If you don’t want an image or sensitive information floating around the Web, don’t take the photo or send the message. “And if you want where you’re going to be truly secret, leave your phone home altogether,” Hall says.

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