Creeped out by just how much companies know about you? Maybe you heard about how Target figured out a teenage girl was pregnant before her own father. Or maybe you've found the ads on the websites you visit to be a little too specific. Or maybe you've heard about the seemingly endless stream of major security breaches involving hundreds of thousands of detailed customer records:
- 1.5 million credit cards exported in hack of payments processor
- MasterCard and Visa Investigate Data Breach
- Citi Credit Card Data Breached for 200,000 Customers
- Big-Box Breach: The Inside Story of Wal-Martâs Hacker Attack
Think for a moment just how much information you give to these companies. How many companies know where you live? How many companies have your phone number? How many companies have your credit card or bank account information? Are those companies selling all or some of that data to other companies? And what are the odds any of those companies could suffer a security breach that could expose your personal information? Odds are some of your personal information has already fallen into the hands of criminals who could use it to do any number of nasty things:
- Steal your identity
- Make fraudulent purchases on your credit cards
- Take funds directly from your bank accounts
- Target you with sophisticated phishing scams
What You Can Do
All that being said, there are things you can do to protect yourself. If you are a Google Chrome user, there is a great extension you can install to prevent third parties from tracking you: Disconnect. You can also use secure HTTP when viewing sites like Facebook and Google. Here's a good article explaining why you should use secure HTTP:
To ensure you stay on secure HTTP when viewing Facebook, you should enable "Secure Browsing" under Account Settings -> Security from within your Facebook account.
More Stuff for Google Chrome Users
Another thing you can do to make it more difficult for websites to track you is to disable third party cookies. Go to your "Content Settings" in Chrome:
Now, check the box next to "Block third-party cookies and site data."
Also, you can get the AdBlock Extension. I am not entirely sure, but I'd imagine this prevents third party ad networks from tracking me as well. Plus, it's nice not having to sift through ads on any sites I visit.
In the end, the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to be mindful of the information you give to companies; whether online or off.