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Work From Home: Keeping Your Data Private, Part II

By Joshua Lawton-Belous, Global Business Officer, Global Cyber Alliance

If the COVID-19 pandemic has identified anything in how we all conduct our daily lives, it is the fact that many personal computers are less protected from malicious cyber actors than work computers. This increase in working from home has resulted in a significant increase in cyberattacks targeting individuals. Combined with the plethora of personal data available, the necessity for individuals to mitigate the theft of their valuable and private data is of even more importance. 

Like the previous article on how to keep your data private, a big thanks needs to go out to Bryan Schneiders for his writings on how to keep personal data private. 

Web Browser Privacy

When you use free browsers and services, like Chrome or Google searches, you’re not the customer; you’re the product. The Chrome browser collects tons of information about everything you do. Some of it is transparent, some of it is not. On both your computer and your phone, despite the interactive privacy features that you can toggle or disable, it still helps build a database of all of your online activity.

Firefox is not perfect, but it makes an effort to respect your privacy more than most other browser options. Therefore if you use Firefox, run it in private browsing mode by default, turn off any optional tracking, advertising, telemetry, or safe-browsing features, and change the default search engine to something that is built to not track your searches. One option is duck-duck-go.

Also consider installing these extensions:

  • PrivacyBadger
  • Ghostery
  • Noscript

Deleting History

Facebook, Google, and likely others now allow you to export your data, create an offline backup, and then curate what you keep online.

I would ask yourself:

  • How many years of Facebook posts, comments, likes, and photos do I benefit from leaving online?
  • How many years of private emails and chat messages do I benefit from leaving online?
  • Do I want years worth of browsing history, search history, location history, etc. stored in a database to continue to be mined in new and exciting ways by companies and governments?

There are articles that suggest Facebook is about to release a feature to help you delete data based on a date range. In the meantime there are browser extensions that can help.

One of them is a Chrome extension: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/social-book-post-manager/ljfidlkcmdmmibngdfikhffffdmphjae

The idea is, first use Facebook data features to export everything so you don’t lose something that you’ll miss. Then use the extension to delete items you don’t need to keep online. You can specifically target posts, photos, comments, likes, and many other things. The extension isn’t perfect, so take it slow when implementing.

Similarly, with free email services, first go to your account settings and find the privacy features. Review all of the various histories it stores about you and decide what you want to delete. Then head over to the takeout section and queue up a download of all of the data you might need in the future. Don’t delete old emails yet. Prepare an export and wait for them to email you a download link. It might take hours or days.

Once you’ve downloaded your email export, put it in a safe place like an external USB drive.

Now, if you decide to leave a free email service that mines your emails for one that does not mine them, here is how you can do it:

  1. Include a Gmail export as a single large “mbox” file in your data backup that’s already on the USB drive by now.
  2. Install the “Thunderbird” email client, from the same people that bring you Firefox, and set up a “POP3” login to your Gmail account. You’ll have to go into mail settings to enable this feature in Gmail and generate a password specifically for Thunderbird. Unlike the IMAP option, POP3 is specifically suited for downloading a local copy of all of your old emails and optionally deleting the server copy: https://www.thunderbird.net/en-US/

You’ll want to review the settings in Thunderbird to make sure it’ll keep everything it downloads and delete everything on the server as it goes. The result is a full, local copy of your email history. If you have also downloaded a consolidated “mbox” file in your data backup, that can be dropped in a special folder on the disk and Thunderbird can read it too.

Financial Privacy

Due to the number of hacks against merchants, individuals’ credit cards are constantly at risk, and if you aren’t closely monitoring your credit card statements, it can be difficult to spot the misuse of your credit card. 

A free service from Privacy.com allows you to generate single-use debit card numbers with pre-set spending limits for each merchant you interact with. This service has the extra benefit of giving you the ability to easily prevent individual merchants from overcharging you and block them from automatically charging renewal or subscription fees.

The service is paid for by credit processing fees by the merchants, so it’s free for you to use.

Good luck, and stay safe!

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