Improve your Privacy Online – Advice for parents and professionals

Getting a grip of your privacy online can seem like a pretty daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be.

What’s out there already? What can people discover about me? Is my old Myspace account still lying dormant? There isn’t a silver bullet for privacy and it shouldn’t be a one-time-only consideration but, if you’re worried about your privacy online, you can make some serious progress with these five steps.

Google yourself (and set up a Google Alert)

The occasional self-Google is a good thing!

Searching for your name can turn up some interesting results and lots of irrelevant ones too, but it’s a great first step in learning what people can find out about you online.

If you want to step it up a notch, throw in a few words that are related to you (e.g. your hometown or your employer(s)). You can do this by using Google’s Advanced Search to include or exclude keywords and phrases. This is especially helpful if you have a celebrity namesake, so you can exclude “footballer”, “actor”, or even “criminal” from your searches.

Once you’ve had a look through the results (make sure you go past the first page!), we recommend setting up a Google Alert so you can be the first to know if any new content is uploaded that contains your name. You can select the frequency at which your Alerts are delivered and pre-emptively filter certain results.

For schools and colleges SWGfL, one of the partners in the UK Safer Internet Centre, has created its own Reputation Alerts – a fantastic tool for tracking your school’s online reputation that will keep you updated whenever and wherever you are mentioned online.

Simply choose your keywords, set your preferences, and Reputation Alerts will notify you when people are talking about your school.

Review your privacy settings on social media

Social media companies remain in the eye of the privacy storm, following data leaks such Cambridge Analytica over the last few years.

Following these breaches, the social media giants are now improving their privacy settings and putting users in control of their own data. Thanks to these changes it is now easier than ever to lock down your accounts and review your current privacy settings.

Below – there are links to some of the major social media platforms’ privacy guides that can help you manage your privacy settings, control what advertising you see, keep your account secure and more:

Bring your passwords into the 21st century

Long gone are the days of being able to secure your accounts with ‘password1’, especially with sites and services now requiring you to create passwords with a range of letters, numbers and characters. Password managers and generators can be a great way to design strong and secure passwords whist also ensuring that you won’t forget them.

Services such as Lastpass and Dashlane come in free and paid formats and can generate hard-to-crack passwords, keep them secure, and stop you from worrying about remembering all of them.

If you don’t want to use a password manager there is some password best practice that you can follow:

Use a mixture of numbers, letters, symbols, and cases. “3x@mpLe!” is stronger than “example”… for example.
Avoid using personal information and ideally choose a string of random, unconnected words. So instead of your middle name and birth year, come up with a story from the things around you at your desk and remember to use a mixture of symbols and letters as mentioned above.

Check whether things have already gone wrong

It’s never good to learn that your personal data has been compromised, but it’s better to be aware of what’s gone on rather than remaining blissfully ignorant.

Have I Been Pwned lets you check whether your email address – and any other personal data along with it – has been compromised in a breach. All you need to do is type in your email address and the site will see if it matches any data in recorded breaches.

Review permissions

The way we use the internet changes, who we are changes, but the digital decisions we make can hang around for a long time.

Apps and browser extensions you downloaded years ago will keep the permissions you originally granted them. For example, an app you installed when you first got your phone but now no longer use may still have access to your contacts, files, camera, microphone, and geolocation.

That’s a worst-case scenario, and it doesn’t mean that apps are abusing these permissions. Still, it is a good idea to review which apps and extensions have which permissions every few months. You may be surprised at what comes up.

If you need help reviewing app permissions, we recommend using these guides for doing so on iOS and Android.

You can’t do it all in five minutes

Now that you’ve completed your five-minute privacy blitz, it’s time to get ahead of the game and proactively manage your online presence. Luckily, you’ve already done a lot of the hard work:

  • You’ll know if your name is mentioned online thanks to your Google Alerts
  • You’ll have the right privacy settings to suit you on social media
  • You’ll use passwords and manage them through a password manager
  • You’ll check every few months whether your data has been compromised
  • You’ll know which apps have which permissions

And make sure you repeat these steps every few months to keep your privacy settings up to date.

This article was orginally published by SWGfL, partners in the UK Safer Internet Centre

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