Career Woman

How to minimize your data trail and be invisible online


How many devices do you use in your work and personal life? If you’re counting on your fingers right now, you’re not alone. We manage business and pleasure through browsers, apps, and smart appliances, and when things are going well we barely notice that each one seem to know a lot more about us than we told it.

That’s because your data travels. The big corporations like Google and Facebook are especially adept at tracking your data across various devices and log-ins, and reflecting this in the adverts you see whether you’re on the device that they got the relevant data from or not.

Another thing about these ‘cookies’ is that they keep you logged in wherever you go. This can be very useful when it saves you time and effort. But if you go to the Security and Login part of your Facebook settings, for example, you’ll probably see you have logins stretching back years over devices you can’t even identify because it’s so long ago since you used them. It’s easy to then remotely log out of those other browsers – but the point is that your data trail has left you vulnerable to cybercrime.

So what can you do about it? A new infographic from CashNetUSA sets out to instruct you on how to get started. For example, you might want to start using private windows such as Chrome’s Incognito, or Internet Explorer’s InPrivate Browsing more often. In this mode, your browser of choice opens up as a ‘clear slate’ without any accidental previous log-ins, such as Gmail, that will allow Google to link your present activity to your account. And your cookies and history from this session will be deleted automatically when you shut the window.

But how about other forms of data? We share things online all the time these days, from holiday photos, to relationship updates, to our opinions through what we Like or Retweet. In the early days of social media this didn’t seem such a problem, partly because we were young and naïve, but also because we tended only to be ‘followed’ by our nearest and dearest.

Today, a wide variety of people and organizations may be interested in what you let slip online. They might be employers sizing you up for a promotion, salespeople looking for an angle, or criminals trying to figure out your mother’s maiden name to help them steal your identity.

Professional people have become better at curating their online ‘image’ but it can still be frustrating to discover you’ve accidentally Liked something that doesn’t align with your values, drunk-tweeted something embarrassing, or revealed your location to your boss, mother, or ex!

So next time you have ten minutes to tighten up your social media defenses, make sure to go into your settings on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and set the defaults to a secure level with which you’re comfortable. You can always adjust them for individual posts when appropriate.

Keeping your data safe is a matter of daily hygiene. But it also requires an occasional reacquainting with the ins-and-outs of how businesses are harvesting it from you. It may be fall outside, but it’s never the wrong season for a touch of data security spring-cleaning!

About John Cole

John writes on behalf of NeoMam Studios. A digital nomad specializing in leadership, digital media, and personal growth topics, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in the UK, Norway, and the Balkans.

Recommended for you