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Protecting our privacy – 5 steps to take today

by guest blogger Ruby Corcoran

As a designer I would like to think of a world where everything is designed for the better following a set of ethical practises. The more I research about privacy online the more entangled it becomes. Everyday users are targets from a greed led consumerist market online. As we rely on technology more and more it is hard to keep up to date with what exactly we are agreeing to online. When we sign up for online platforms such as Facebook and Instagram we expect them to know some information about us (we agree to their terms and conditions), but to many it can be a shock to know just how much data is collected from these companies that is a lot more sensitive that we thought.

Our behaviour and preferences are very valuable to these companies. Do you ever wonder why we have so many “free” options to choose from such as communication applications (messenger, whatsapp or viber) and social networking sites (facebook, instagram or snapchat). The reason they use our data is to target us with advertising that is adapted to our preferences. We need to remember that this data is theirs and we are giving it away for free. We invest so much time into online activity, it is important to stop and think about how much value we place on our data and privacy. Not all hope is lost, with some simple changes it is possible to change our behaviour and take action on our data.

 

5 steps we can take to be more private online

1. Always read the Terms & Conditions:​ Think what am I agreeing to, what am I giving away for the use of a free service. Sometimes it’s just too good to be true. It’s important to have some understanding to what we agree to give away. If a stranger came up to to you on the street and asked could they see photos of your family you would not feel comfortable doing so, then why do it online. There are options to change settings and adjust what we give away to a service like Facebook. Just like we may decide to unsubscribe to newsletters that no longer interest you. Targeted advertising is one of the biggest forms of income generation on these sites. If we learn to identify what is and what isn’t an ad then we are getting somewhere. More and more we are seeing sponsored ads on the likes of facebook and instagram. This is possible because in our terms of service we have allowed these online platforms to track our behavior and patterns of usage. An ad doesn’t always have to be obvious. Many online celebrities are paid to upload photos to promote products. We may be thinking “look at those shoes” without even realising we are looking at an ad sponsored by nike.

2. Check out settings on social media:​ You can control your settings on Social media from who can see what you post, to what that company collects about you. Always set your settings as strict as possible if you want your personal settings to be safe. Try and avoid linking your social media accounts with other third party services. Make a seperate log in if you have to.

3. Have strong passwords:​ Passwords act as a first layer of protection when online. While at times it can be irritating to have to think of a new passwords that contains all the elements to strong password (or just lets you get the next step without going red), we depend on them for our very own protection. Most of us are guilty to some password sins.

4. Make your browsing as private as possible: ​One of the easiest ways you can tighten up your privacy online is to add extensions to your browser like Privacy Badger and Ghostery. Another way is to stop using Google and use other options out there like DuckDuckGo search engine who agree to block advertising, keep your search history private and protect your personal information.

5. Use your common sense:​ Take a step back and think to yourself. If a situation occurs where in the real world you would feel uncomfortable it should be the same as something happening online. Think before you click, upload or comment. Our actions have consequences online. It is important to do a spring clean of your online data. Over time we sign up to so many websites, apps and other online platforms that it can be easy to forget about them. It is important to logout of applications, delete profiles you may not use anymore and uninstall apps not in use. Even if you don’t use these we have still agreed to the terms and conditions. As we don’t know exactly what the future entails it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry.

 

Ruby Corcoran is a Visual Communication Design Student at IADT. While working on a cyberpsychology project, she started thinking about how online platforms are designed to entice the user to behave in certain ways, and how we can change our own online behaviour to counter this. She believes that as online users we need to be in control of our data, and that our privacy is a fundamental right.

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