How big is your digital footprint?
NBA basketballers have big feet. That much is a given. So too Elephants. But possibly, the average trigger-happy careless reckless and oblivious web surfer probably has the biggest footprint of all. Their digital footprint that is.
These days if you don't allow yourself certain protections on the Internet, chances are your profile and anything you put up into the public domain for all to see will come back and bite you on the you-know-where
As an example, let's talk about open-book viewing on your Facebook page. How about those drunken selfies being viewed by a prospective employer? Or those profane yobbo posts you put up which demonstrate your intolerance to things like sexism, ageism or worse still, racism? Surely you are not that dumb?
Do you slap up hundreds of photos of you and your family, only to find these have been 'borrowed' by some bad actor to use on fake profiles elsewhere? Like porn sites if you are a woman.
Do you publish your address in public so everyone knows where you live? What about your phone number? You'd be surprised how many blase people are out there who just don't care about personal privacy. By now you're getting my drift.
How to lock it down
This is not really aimed at the ignorant, because no matter what I say or write, they will probably ignore it anyway. But for those who are generally concerned, this is a start. There are many areas on the Net where lock down is required.
This is the first and obvious place. Assume that this data harvester takes ALL
your data, despite their protestations. It is in their financial interest to collect all your data and on sell it. That's how they make money. You are the 'data'.
Review your account settings and switch all settings to private. Then gradually add back to friends only
status or public
status those settings which you want to free up. Your default view setting should be set to friends only
as a maximum starting point.
Review all your posts and photos and remove those which could cause you problems further down the track, if they haven't done so already. For photos, focus on those ones with your kids, around the house, especially where things can be identified by bad actors.
Reduce your footprint by removing as many unnecessary likes
from your timeline. This might take some time.
If you really want to liberate yourself, deactivate your account altogether. You wouldn't be the first, and you certainly won't be the last. Go on, be brave, I dare you to.
A difficult one I know. Even I frequent the weird and strange world of You Tube, but I do this under a fake Gmail address and fake name (pseudonym). I also use a VPN and surf in from another country, masking my true location. One day you could get good at doing this too.
Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram
Same process as Facebook above.
Google Search Engines
The default search engine for many is Google. God help us. According to American technology consultant Mr Shelly (Shelton) Palmer
. "Google is not a search engine," he says.
"It is a highly specialised direct response advertising engine purpose-built to translate the value of 'intention' into wealth for Google (Alphabet) shareholders. It is optimised to put the right ad in front of the right person at the right time. In other words, it is 'rigged' to optimize revenue - all other considerations are secondary."
There are alternatives that are far safer and do not track you. Qwant, Startpage and DuckDuckGo are three search engines that are popular to the safety-conscious among you. Check them out.
I can imagine everyone on the Net uses the same password across multiple websites. I know I do, so that's bad form. However, I do have a complete list of every site I'm logged into with the details of the URL, email and password. I keep these in a secure encrypted file, and if I need to review them then I can.
The web also has Password Manager tools, like LastPass and others similar to it. Personally, I would steer well clear of them. The cloud is not a place to be storing very personal and very strategically important details.
If you want to use a Password Manager offline, then use something like KeePassX
(which has clients for Windows, Linux and Mac). This is a much safer method, and you can use it to trigger (surf to) websites with your credentials already being able to be used.
Using Browser Extensions
I've used numerous extensions over the years, but these days I use only two: both from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). They are:
* HTTPS Everywhere
* Privacy Badger
Because I don't use Google as my search engine, I don't have to worry about ads so much, therefore I don't use an Ad Blocker.
I'm sure others out there will use other extensions, but I have found that the more extensions you load up, the more your web browser runs like a slow turtle.
VPN's (virtual private networks) have sprouted up since 2010, it's inconceivable now to think that we ever navigated the Web without one!
Let's be clear on one thing. A VPN will not provide you anonymity. What it will do is give you privacy. However when combined with tools such as TOR (Onion Routing) and Cloudflare DNS, this trio of tools will make it extremely difficult for any bad actor to make head or tail of what it is you're doing and where you are going.
The sorts of things you should be looking for is a VPN outside the 'five eyes' alliance of the USA, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand. A country like Germany or Switzerland where VPN's are hosted are good candidates.
Though you can imagine the USA wanting to strike up deals with other countries to maximize coverage for surveillance purposes. I understand in recent times they are trying to do this with Germany and Italy.
Do your homework. Look for recommendations. Know the type of activity you wish to achieve. If downloading torrents, be careful here, especially if routed through TOR as that tactic is extremely frowned upon. If you require port forwarding for games or Peer 2 Peer networks like DC+ or Soulseek then choose a VPN that allows for port forwarding. Not all VPN's do.
Encrypted Drives and USB sticks
If you truly want to stoop to the level of paranoia, then you could possibly install an ISO distro onto a USB stick, and not access a hard drive at all.
In fact, you could conceivably delete everything on a hard drive so that it is clean, and run your USB stick as your operating system upon boot up.
You can store files on it, and take it away with you when your session is complete. Essentially, you are carrying your operating system and data around with you in your pocket.
If you want to utilise this, it depends what it is you wish to achieve. Is it purely an offsite backup? Or do you wish to make available files for group/member or public access?
Both can utilise cloud storage but there are trade offs like upload speed, quota and cost.
One good example that is worth a look is the NextCloud
eco-system which can be run on your own server at home, or hosted with an Internet Provider that uses mySQL or MariaDB in the back-end. You have absolute control over your own data, and no one else.
Or, you might be better off just buying a cheap Western Digital Passport Drive (USB) that holds up to 1 TB or more. These are cheap and fast. Better than any cloud storage solution I reckon.
There are so many areas in which to minimise your digital footprint. We haven't even written about cryptocurrencies and blockchains for handling financial obfuscation if that is at all possible.
The ultimate goal is to make yourself invisible to bad actors; whether they wear a suit or not is another matter. Remember there are no good guys. Just bad guys and 'real' bad guys. They have no right trawling through your personal belongings.