For so many reasons, all of us, both as business people and from a personal perspective, need to find the best ways to secure our online privacy.
Because internet privacy and security are, in reality, a contradiction. There’s no such thing.
And with data privacy breaches coming to light almost weekly, everyone needs to consider and protect their privacy. Not only from prying internet trolls but the big data companies.
Pew Research “found that 91% of Americans “agree” or “strongly agree” that people have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by all kinds of entities. Some 80% of social media users said they were concerned about advertisers and businesses accessing the data they share on social media platforms, and 64% said the government should do more to regulate advertisers.”
This mistrust of social media and advertisers affects us, as online business people, as well as our clients and customers. We not only need to be empathetic towards our client’s online security concerns but also always practise secure privacy standards ourselves.
Our businesses may literally depend on it.
In 2015 I had my email and computer hacked, and all of it caused an avalanche of security problems.
I discovered that “I” had become a regular on various dating sites and was shopping up a storm. And those are just a few things that my hackers used my name to do.
Thankfully, at the time, I was just starting my business, and no security leaks affected my clients.
But since that breach, I have done a lot of in-depth research about online security and privacy as well as testing and implementing some crucial things.
So, to help answer the problem of data sharing and privacy, I want to offer my top super easy tips and tools.
These tips and tools are, I think, imperative for the online business owner as well as for the general public.
Okay, let’s start.
How To Secure Your Online Privacy: Email
It’s been common knowledge for a while that the big free email providers like Yahoo, Gmail (Google), and Outlook (Microsoft), read your email and share your information and contacts with third parties.
Also, Facebook, Pinterest, Gooogle, and other social platforms allow third parties to upload user information to target accounts for advertising, “recommended things,” and more. This practice is often done using email addresses.
One simple and straightforward way to make it harder for companies to share and target people via email is to use different email addresses for each platform. This idea may sound silly, but it works!
From my experience and after testing many email providers, the easiest way to have different email addresses is to use a provider that offers multiple aliases on one account.
Also, these days it is imperative to use an email provider that is entirely secure and private as well as one that doesn’t read or share the content of your emails, unlike providers located in the USA, which allow snooping.
Admittedly, to get these essential features, you sometimes have to pay a fee. But, don’t be alarmed, some excellent private email providers don’t cost much. The small price is well worth the added privacy and security.
Here are three email providers that I use and recommend.
Protonmail – Located in Switzerland. (Protonmail also has a free limited features plan too.
Tutanota – Located in Germany. (Tutanota also has a free limited features plan too.)
Fastmail – Located in Australia.
Also, Protonmail and Tutanota provide fully encrypted email between their users. Meaning, if you and your contacts both use the same email provider, all emails between each other are automatically encrypted.
Protonmail, Tutanota, and Fastmail all have android and iOS apps. Just search for them in your App Store.
A note about Fastmail: this email provider offers the most amount of aliases per premium account. However, I have noticed that for some reason, the Twitter desktop doesn’t seem to like Fastmail. I spoke to customer service about this problem, and they assured me that many customers use Fastmail for their Twitter accounts. Still, I chose to use different emails for Twitter to save myself any difficulty.
How to secure your online privacy: VPNs
Using a VPN helps lock down privacy in a few ways. It stops Internet Service Providers (ISP) from seeing what you do online and also prevents websites from knowing any personal or identifying details about you, including your location.
Good VPNs also enable surfing the web from different locations or countries. This feature is particularly helpful when doing research and checking on things for my clients who live in a different place.
For me using a VPN for my work helps me get more diversified search results and better location-specific information.
The best VPNs also provide a secure core and kill switch for additional protection.
A secure core is an added layer of security between you and the sites you visit. At the same time, a kill switch will block all network activity if your VPN connection is disrupted for any reason.
Unfortunately, most VPNs, including some very popular ones, are not private or secure.
Recent research on the top VPNs showed that most originate and operate in China with no particular security in place.
These VPN providers also readily share and sell their user’s information with other parties.
I have a very cost-effective premium account, and it includes secure core, a kill switch, and of course, the option to route through many different countries with just a click. Express VPN also provides use on multiple devices, and they don’t keep any logs, which are essential features with a good VPN.
Express VPN is available for the web as well as in Android and ios apps along with many other types of installation options.
How to secure your online privacy; Passwords
Of course, it’s imperative to use unique and complex passwords for all of your accounts. Kevin Mitnick (a former world-famous hacker) suggests using twelve character passwords in his book The Art Of Invisibility.
But also, for safety sake, don’t let Google, your browser, or sites store them for you.
And to save yourself from trying to remember all of those passwords, a password manager is the best tool.
Password managers are secure, easy to use and make signing into sites much faster.
The password manager that I have used for years and highly recommend is LastPass. This particular password manager is considered the most highly regarded one.
How to secure your online privacy; Browsing, browsers, and search
Note: Keep in mind that your browser and search engine are two separate things. With most browsers, you can choose which search engine is the default in your browser settings.
Using a secure and private browser is a crucial step to stop data misuse. But unfortunately, the world’s most popular browser, Google is one of the least safe.
Companies like Google use your profile to filter the results they show you, based on what they think you are most likely to click on. This is commonly known as the “Filter Bubble.”
It’s a form of corporate censorship that can be used to influence public opinions (even unintentionally), such as election outcomes and other political issues.
Google, Bing, and Yahoo also sell your data to third parties. This practice is at the heart of their business structure.
Want to learn more about how you are being censored? Check out the TED talk by Eli Parsier.
However, there are good options available.
I have personally tested; Google, Internet Explorer, Opera, Firefox, Epic, Brave, and Tor.
The most secure browsers on the list are Brave, Tor, Epic and lastly, Firefox.
Brave works very well and allows browser extensions. Theoretically, browser extensions can expose your identity, but I have a few browser extensions that I need.
The Tor browser is surprisingly a lot faster than I anticipated. Tor does offer mainstream search results like all browsers, and no, you don’t need to be trying to access the deep or dark web to use it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t like Epic because you can only use their built-in search application, and it doesn’t work very well, especially for North American search results.
But to be honest, perhaps the best way to achieve private browsing that is also convenient is to add a privacy rated search engine to your current browser.
Startpage uses Google search results but anonymizes your data, so Google isn’t able to track you or use your data. Startpage also now offers a 100% anonymous viewing option next to each search result.
DuckDuckGo uses its own search engine, which, in my experience, is good but doesn’t always offer the best search results.
DuckDuckGo also has a blog that covers many informative privacy-related topics.
But no matter what browser you choose to use, clearing your cache regularly is imperative. SiteGround offers a good article on how to clear your cache and one on how to clear your local DNS in windows.
If you’re interested, here is an eye-opening Ted Talk.
Important Notes; no matter which browser you choose, keep in mind that until you sign out of a site, it has access to all of your information from any other sites you have open in your browser!
Also, on your smartphone, all Apps that you don’t sign out of are still able to access not only the information stored on your phone but information from all other open Apps.
Overall, iPhone’s are a lot more secure and private than Androids because Apple has many more default privacy policies. Android is perceived as untrustworthy in large part.
The last tip I want to offer regarding browsers is to install at least two browsers on your computer. Then you can use one for business and one for personal use.
I currently have four browsers installed on my laptop, and I use Brave for all my searches. Google is still my default business browser because I need to use some extensions that aren’t available on other browsers.
You can also create multiple unique users on each browser, for example, users for business and personal use. This practice is particularly important and handy if you have clients in other parts of the world, and you need access to different locations via a VPN.
However, the most effective way to keep your business and personal information separate is to create separate users on your computer.
How to secure your online privacy; Computer security
Nothing beats a good desktop security program. But many of the highly-rated programs cost a lot of money.
I’m not suggesting you skip buying a good security program, but I want to talk about a couple of effective free anti-spyware programs that have worked well for me.
The good thing about these two programs is that they don’t delete other applications you want to keep on your computer. Also, and they don’t embed themselves so deeply into your computer that it’s next to impossible to get rid of them.
Some of the other programs I previously tried removed stuff I needed, and the programs themselves were next to impossible to remove! Not good.
Important Note; the above mentioned anti-spyware programs can’t stop sites from installing tracking cookies, but they do an excellent job of deleting them along with any viruses that are on your computer.
Overall I have tested but don’t recommend IObit, Bitdefender, McAfee, Avast, and Kaspersky, both free and paid versions.
Update: I now use the paid version of SUPERantispyware, and I am pleased with it. I decided to upgrade to the pro version so that I could schedule daily scans to run automatically. The price for the paid version is well worth the added security and privacy.
General Security and Privacy Tips;
In summary, as I mentioned above, using unique email addresses for different accounts is perhaps the easiest way to stop companies from compromising your data. At least make sure you use unique emails for business and personal accounts.
Start using a secure email client, get a password manager, and keep your cache clean.
Finally, though, let’s face it, all companies these days collect data. Those of us who own online businesses do it too, to some extent. The easiest thing to do to protect your privacy is to restrict the sharing of your data.
And the best way to limit this data sharing is by simply limiting who knows what.
If you’d like more information on the topic of online privacy and security, Proton has a good suggested reading list.
Important heads up; Keep in mind if you search online for good Email providers, VPNs, or password managers, most sites that offer reviews and recommendations are affiliate sites for the program(s) that they recommend.
In other words, no real research or testing has been done on the programs suggested, or even if they do offer test results, they are obviously slanted towards the company that they are an affiliate for. These sites exist only to promote and sell products.
So, good luck with implementing your new online privacy and security.
Do you have any additional suggestions that work well for you in your quest for online privacy? Let me know in the comments.
Note: This post was originally published on December 14, 2018, but has been updated multiple times with new information. The latest update is August 13, 2020.