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-Mart's 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.
- Avoid giving personal information to any website or service
- Use an ad-blocker
- Configure your browser to protect your privacy
If you're using Firefox or Chrome, you can install uBlock Origin (for Firefox, for Chrome) to prevent third parties from tracking you while browsing the internet. The mobile version of Chrome doesn't allow you to install extensions, so it's probably a good idea to use Firefox mobile instead (with uBlock Origin installed).
Another thing you can do to make it more difficult for websites to track you is to disable third party cookies. In Chrome, go to your "Content Settings" (chrome://chrome/settings/content) and check the box next to "Block third-party cookies and site data."
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.