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The more you can do to protect your online privacy, the less likely you'll have any fallout if you are the victim of a data breach. You're also less likely to wind up with your account being hacked. But it goes beyond that. You also don't want big data companies knowing everything you're doing online. You don't want them being able to figure out what products you've bought recently or even what search terms you used. Beyond that, there is also the problem of thieves who will try to figure out when people are away and rob people's homes.
If you want to have more privacy but are feeling overwhelmed and don't know where to start, don't worry! You're in the right place. Here we cover some easy privacy habits you can create which are not intrusive in your everyday life but which make all the difference from a privacy standpoint.
When navigating directions
Use your car GPS, a Garmin or other product for GPS directions when driving. Do not use your phone for this. Sure, now your car or Garmin knows where you are, but at least it's not your phone provider, Google, Apple or anyone else who additionally knows what you've searched for or what you've bought recently.
Search engine privacy
Do not use Google or Bing as your search engine unless you really feel the privacy trade-offs are worth it. Instead use DuckDuckGo or another privacy-oriented search engine. If you must use Google or Bing, consider using it only for certain searches and use DuckDuckGo for the remainder. Splitting your searches across several search engines anyway ensures that no single one of those know everything you've searched for.
Split purchases across different stores
Don't purchase everything online from one major store. For example, don't immediately go for Amazon for all of your home products. Instead buy some of your items from other stores. Walmart and Target can often be cheaper for certain items anyway. This way, no one company knows what the majority of your home purchases are.
Don't keep your phone on 24/7
Turn your phone off for occasional periods of time when you're out and about. Do this especially when it might cause large jumps or gaps in your location data. Sometimes I turn mine off in the middle of a journey for exactly the purpose of not wanting my location to be tracked.
Practice good password hygiene
Use strong and unique passwords, and change your passwords periodically. That way if you're the victim of a data breach elsewhere, at least hackers can't use that password to get into your email account. This is a bigger deal than it first might seem, because if they gain access to your email account they can ask for your banking password to be reset and get into your bank account that way, for example. So guard that account carefully. In particular, your email password and banking passwords should all be extremely strong and unique. Changing passwords periodically ensures that you always have a "moving target" that is harder for hackers to get.
If you do re-use the same passwords on certain accounts where you have no sensitive information (e.g. forum accounts etc), instead create easy-to-remember variations for different sites so that you've got unique passwords that you won't forget. This is easier than it sounds; we recommend the step-by-step guide in this Lifewire article.
Social media considerations
Consider not using traditional social media such as Facebook where you use your real name. If it is unreasonable for you to stop using it as your real name, then at the very least use it only your computer (not your phone) and log out of Facebook and other social media whenever you're not using it. That way the social media company can't track your other actions on the internet. Using social media less frequently can also make it harder for the social media company to gather data on you (assuming you are logged out of their site while not using it). In this situation, you may like to post on your profile that you don't use it often, that way people know what to expect. As a bonus, you may find you reap the rewards of better productivity.
Even if you still use traditional social media, consider joining privacy-oriented social media such as Mastodon, Diaspora or MeWe. You may eventually find that you're not using traditional social media as much. Of course, if everyone you know is on traditional social media you probably will still use that a lot, but you could suggest to people you know in real life to join you on one of the newer privacy-oriented alternatives.
If you're on the computer a lot, you may like to check if your screen wallpaper fits the requirements of avoiding eye strain - although it won't affect privacy considerations, it'll make your work on the computer more pleasant.
Why you need to split things across 2 or 3 email addresses
Have a secondary email address that you use for signing up for newsletters, etc. That way clutter is reduced in your main email, plus, you have more privacy where you're not using the same email address across a bunch of online services. For free email services we recommend for this are GMX Mail and Tutanota.
Browser settings to know
Set your browser to reject 3rd party cookies. This option is available on all major browsers, although it can be buried in the settings. This significantly enhances your privacy as it makes it really hard for other sites to track you besides just the one you're browsing at the time.
It also helps to clear your history periodically. If you just want to delete one site from your history without affecting the others, we have instructions for how to do this in the FireFox browser.
Consider using a VPN
Using a VPN significantly improves your privacy game. You can switch it on or off as needed; having a VPN does not mean being locked into using it at all times if you don't want to. Sadly, many VPN's are quite expensive (or else free but slow and unreliable). Instead I recommend the ultra-cheap VPN at Namecheap. They have a free trial going on right now, although even the regular price is super-cheap Free VPN trial - protect yourself online!