My back had only been out of whack for a week and I hadn’t posted a word about it anywhere. How did Facebook already know? Right in my feed was an ad for a ‘free back pain relief lunch seminar’ in my area. “Creepy,” I thought. More like science, when it comes to the sophisticated way businesses can track your online habits, such as you you like (Facebook), what your curious about (Google) and what you buy (Amazon).
Which begs the question: How concerned should you be about protecting your online privacy? This list doesn’t even scratch the surface, and by the time this is published, advertisers may have already found a new way to track you. But it’s a start.
Four actions to help protect your online privacy
1. Accept that nothing online was considered private anyway.
Assume anything you post, even anything you email, will be visible to everyone. Period. No matter how often you change your online privacy settings, different platforms change them more quickly.
And, there’s no such thing as two audiences—one “public” and one for “family and friends—curate what you posted knowing there’s only one internet. In the olden days the warning in Public Relations was “don’t put anything in writing that you don’t want on the front page of the New York Times. Same adage. New media.
That friend who swore they wouldn’t repeat your secret in second grade? Now they can do a screen shot and share anything you’ve shared with them.
Nothing you post online is private
2. Give out only information required.
Lie about your age (aren’t you doing that anyway?). No one is verifying your birthday; they just need to know you’re old enough to use the site. Give a fake zip code, too.
And don’t give more information than is absolutely required to get or do what you need. Most often a cell phone is optional, as is home address, gender and all kinds of information requested.
When you are at a retail store making a cash purchase, don’t be afraid to let the clerk know they have absolutely no need for your phone number or email address. Yes, everyone behind you in line with think you are paranoid, but you are only doing it because you are paranoid, but with supporting evidence that you should be.
3. Avoid giving out your phone number. Create a burner email account to use just for signing up for stuff.
Josh Sternberg, Tech Editor for Adweek, warns that experts have told him your phone number is now more closely attached to your bank, finances and health insurance than even your Social Security number. He also recommends creating a burner email address (shoot…the easiest way to do this is with Google’s Gmail) to use when you are making online purchases or filling out forms. And don’t let Google force you to consolidate all of your Gmail accounts into one inbox (They will try. Say no!). Use a different password for your critical sites, like banking, than you would for other more informational sites.
Beware anytime a website says “in order to better serve you…” or “for your convenience…” before they ask for information about you. It’s never actually a benefit for you. Yes, it probably will be easier, but it is designed to gather more information about your habits.
For example, you can use your Facebook login to log into all kinds of sites now. Convenient, right? Wrong! Facebook pixels allow websites to track your behavior on their website and back on Facebook after you leave their site. Any site you sign into with your Facebook login will now track you as well. S
Sign in to any site you use separately, with your burner email address and a different password. Can’t remember your passwords? No worries. That’s what the “Forgot Password” function is for.
And (duh?) Don’t get microchipped!
4. If you’re on Facebook, turn off Facebook Ads
Short of deleting your Facebook page (although that is an option too) you can turn off ads and limit what advertisers can see. (Remember, Facebook owns Instagram and Google owns YouTube, so you’ll want to check into this for other platforms where you have a profile as well.)
But one step at a time. Here’s how to turn off Facebook Ads and delete the “preference” profile that Facebook has created about you.
- Log into your Facebook Page (these directions are for a laptop or computer).
- Click the little down arrow (inverted triangle) in the top upper right corner; Three-quarters of the way down, click on Settings.
- Once you are in, look at the left hand column. Click on Ads, near the bottom of the list. (Note that Privacy is at the top of that list—take a look there to make sure your posts are set “Friends only” as opposed to “public”, while you’re at it.)
- Click on Ad Preferences (fourth item down), and change “allowed” to “not allowed” for all options.
Plan to spend some time here, as you freak out, looking at the other sections on this page–Your interests; your preferences; Advertisers with whom you’ve interacted.
When I went in I found that Facebook had me pegged as a liberal Boomer business owner interested in multiculturalism who frequents cafes, likes international travel and is in the market for a new phone.
Well, they don’t know everything. I got my new phone last week.