Published September 16, 2019
Who are you? Are you the photo of a five-year-old looking in the mirror? What do your Facebook groups say about you… unless it’s a secret group, your posts in those groups might not be publicly visible but there is an indication that you’re a member. Is your morning commute route stored and communicated to… someone, somewhere… by your smartphone? Does your bank have a voice recording of every time you called to check the balance on your checking account?
Our digital identities, in most cases, is immense and fragmented. They are also completely out of our control. We can’t even find out who has what type of information, let alone know how it is used or profited from.
If you don’t want to resort to deleting all of your social media accounts… and prefer to keep your money in the bank, rather than stuffed in your mattress… how can you regain some control over your digital identity? Here are some steps that will make your digital trail harder to collect and profit from.
One of the biggest ways that companies collect data is through cookies that are installed in web browsers. These cookies sometimes help consumers—for example, by allowing them to stay logged in to a website through multiple sessions. But not all cookies are so innocuous… many of them log the types of sites you visit and use that information to show you ads and track, among other things, your physical location.
If you want to go a step further, install an ad blocker. Ad blockers stop most—but not all—tracking cookies and generally help stop the number of cookies installed in any given time period.
Clearing cookies regularly and installing an ad blocker helps with your social network privacy too—but you should also make sure to stay up-to-date with your privacy settings and keep those settings as restrictive as possible. Because privacy policies change, this is something that has to be revisited regularly.
This won’t stop a social media company from actually collecting data on you, of course. If you’re not ok with that, think about whether or not you really need to use social media at all.
Smartphones are an incredibly effective digital surveillance device, and unlike your browser, they can be used to track your physical activities, not just your web searches. Companies can and do collect information about where you were when you made a call or sent a text message. Brick-and-mortar stores have also used smartphone tracking apps to collect data on how people move around the store.
Does that make you a little uncomfortable? The first step to protecting your smartphone is to delete any apps you don’t actually use—that will reduce the number of companies snooping on your location.
You can also disallow location information for specific apps—although the app might prompt you to “allow” every time you open it. Go through your app list and check what permissions you’ve granted… and adjust if necessary.
There are, of course, more extreme ways to reclaim your digital identity, but these steps allow you to maintain more control of your data while still using modern technology.
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