How to tweak your internet privacy settings in 5 easy steps
The internet has given us unlimited opportunities to learn, explore, connect, and create — but those opportunities often come at a cost. Today, you’re required to share a certain amount of personal information when you go online. As a result, your internet privacy isn’t guaranteed.
According to Acxiom’s 2018 data privacy survey, 82% of U.S. consumers are highly concerned about the issue of online privacy — and for good reason. Most companies and websites today track our digital behavior and collect our data, often without our knowledge or consent. They can use this data to send targeted ads and tailor what we see when we read, shop, and research.
That’s not to say everyone wants total anonymity, though. Sometimes you want to be seen and heard online, while other times you might crave total freedom from observation. Whatever your preference, your level of privacy should be up to you. If you’d like to increase your privacy on the internet, all you need is a little extra time and web savvy.
Here are five simple steps you can take to adjust your online privacy:
1. Change your social media privacy settings
Social media contains some of your most personal information, like your email address, location, school, hometown, political beliefs, relationship status, occupation, and interests. A 2018 survey from the Pew Research Center found that 69% of American adults use at least one social media platform. As technology has advanced, social media privacy settings have become more and more complex, making it difficult to know exactly what you’re broadcasting and to whom.
Many platforms have default sharing settings, so it’s important to double-check your social media accounts to make sure you’re comfortable with your level of privacy. On Instagram, you can opt for a private or public profile, for example, but you can also take extra steps toward privacy, like disabling the “Activity Status” feature that allows your followers to see the last time you were online.
The privacy settings on Twitter are fairly straightforward — either your account is private or public — but there is a location tracking setting you can disable. Under “Settings,” click “Security and Privacy,” then scroll down and uncheck the box that says “Add a location to my tweets.”
Facebook, on the other hand, requires a deeper dive to explore your privacy settings. In the top right-hand corner of the platform, click the drop-down arrow and tap “Settings.” From here, you can explore the “Privacy” tab, as well as “Timeline and Tagging,” “Location,” “Public Posts,” and “Ads.” To increase your internet privacy, you can:
Limit who sees your posts
Opt to review posts you’re tagged in before they go on your timeline
Prohibit Facebook from letting people search for you using your email address or phone number
Prevent search engines from linking to your profile
Limit the visibility of past posts
Limit who sees your data and sends you targeted ads
It’s also a good idea to review which apps are synced to your various social media accounts. Though it might be convenient to log into an app or website using your Facebook or Instagram account, this also gives the app access to the data on your profile, thus limiting your internet privacy. Here’s how to see your synced apps:
Instagram: Go to “Settings,” click “Authorized Applications,” then review the apps and click “Revoke Access.”
Facebook: Under “Settings,” click “Apps and Websites” on the left-hand column, then click to remove the apps you no longer want to sync.
2. Review your app permissions
Many apps request permission to access certain types of data on your phone, like your location data, camera roll, or audio recordings. Agreeing to these permissions is often necessary, like when you give the weather app access to your location. However, allowing apps perpetual, uninterrupted access to this data can reduce your internet privacy.
A 2018 report from The New York Times found that at least 75 companies receive users’ location data from apps, and more than 25 other companies sell location data to businesses that use targeted advertising.
That’s why it’s smart to regularly review your app permissions. Here’s how to do it:
On an iPhone: Under “Settings,” click “Privacy,” then “Location Services” to see which apps have access to your location. You can change the access to “Never,” “While using the app,” or “Always.” Under the privacy tab, you can also check your photos, camera, microphone, and Bluetooth sharing to see which apps can access this information.
On an Android: Under “Settings,” click “Apps” or “Application Manager.” From here, tap the app you want to update, click “Permissions,” then either turn these permissions on or off.
3. Limit private information on public networks
Part of improving your privacy on the internet involves limiting the amount of private information you share. Because public Wi-Fi networks typically don’t encrypt their internet traffic, your personal information is more accessible when you’re on these networks. That’s why it’s smart to limit the number of sensitive details you share when you’re using the Wi-Fi at your local cafe, for example. Try to avoid sharing your location, making purchases, or logging onto certain sites, like your healthcare portal or online banking.
Another way to secure your privacy when using public Wi-Fi is withto download and use a virtual private network (VPN) when using public Wi-Fi. A VPN routes your internet data through an encrypted tunnel to a separate server, effectively masking your IP address and limiting the amount of data companies can gather on you.
4. Change your browser settings
One of the simplest ways to up your internet privacy is to reconfigure your internet browser settings, particularly when it comes to cookies (the small data files that contain your preferences and profile info). Blocking third-party cookies prohibits third-party websites — like the advertisements on your favorite blog — from saving and analyzing your cookie data.
This won’t prevent all data tracking, but it can help limit the amount of personal data that circulates online, in turn reducing the number of targeted ads you see. Here’s how to do it:
On Chrome: Go to “Preferences,” then tap “Settings” in the top left-hand corner. Click “Advanced,” then “Privacy and Security.” Under “Content Settings,” click “Cookies,” then enable the option to block third-party cookies.
On Safari: Apple automatically enables this setting, but it’s helpful to double-check. Go to “Preferences,” then click “Privacy.” Under “Cookies and Website Data,” make sure the box that says “Allow from websites I visit” is checked.
Under Chrome’s privacy tab, you can also disable the features that save and autofill your payment methods, addresses, and passwords on websites you visit.
5. Tweak your Google settings
If you have a Gmail account, you’re probably logged onto Google most of the time you’re online. This affects your internet privacy, since Google can gather data on the sites you visit, ads you click, and products you purchase. If you want to limit the amount of information available, though, there are a few easy steps to take.
Start by clicking on your Google profile in the upper right-hand corner of Google, then click “Privacy.” You may have to wade through a lot of links, but if you tap “Privacy Controls,” you can scroll through and review your settings to make the following adjustments:
Choose what type of activity is saved on your account
Turn off certain ads
Turn off your location history
Limit what other people see about you
Choose whether or not your name and photo appear next to your account activity
Your privacy belongs to you
Unfortunately, most websites don’t automatically grant you privacy when you go online, but that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to complete exposure if you don’t want to. FigLeaf was designed to help you regain control over your internet privacy. You should have the power to choose how visible you are at any given time online — and to adjust your internet privacy settings as often as you like.