Do you ever feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind, wanting to start again? Only the wind is the internet, and the plastic bag is a flurry of confetti exposing every detail of your personal life? If so, it may be time for a data detox.
Though we unbox our tech with optimism shining in our hearts as bright as our brand new phones, inescapable digital ephemera is quick to accumulate. No matter how careful you are, a clean, secure digital life is nearly impossible to maintain.
Practically every website, service and appliance now comes bundled with an app or account, all of which demand you hand over your name, birth date, credit card details and social security number. Tech companies mercilessly track our interests, location, age, gender, ethnicity, and anything else that can be used to categorise and advertise to people. No matter who you are or where you’re from, big tech is watching.
Having all that personal information freely drifting through the internet is pretty unsettling, not to mention unsafe. So to help tackle the issue, Tactical Tech and Mozilla launched the in 2017. Distinct from a , in which you reduce your use of digital devices, the Data Detox Kit is a step-by-step guide to tidying up your messy digital loose ends so they’re less likely to come back and bite you.
The Data Detox Kit is definitely worth going through if you can, but not all of us have the time or energy to complete the whole process. Lying on the couch and streaming Netflix after work is a much more appealing prospect than taking stock of your entire digital life, especially after a long day, and cleaning up digital clutter is a task that’s very easily put off.
It’s important to stay on top of your digital security though, so here are four quick ways to detox your data with minimal effort.
Do An App Cleanse
Your phone is probably full of apps you don’t use anymore, like that one for a fan that broke six months ago, or that cute cat game you only played for two weeks. Now’s the time to clean out the crud.
Apps don’t just clog up your phone, they also collect a ton of information on you. It’s all too easy to grant invasive and unnecessary phone access to every random app that asks without even thinking about it — and many of us do. Deleting unused apps tightens up your security, with the added bonus of freeing space on your phone for more useful things.
As for the apps you do use, check their permissions to see exactly what they’re accessing. If it seems they’re poking into parts of your phone they shouldn’t, consider finding less nosy alternatives.
Turn Your Location Off
Your location data gives away a lot more than you may think. By tracking your movements, it’s easy for someone to determine not only your regular commute, but where you work, where you like to shop, and even where you live. Everything a stalker needs to make your life hell, all in one convenient data stream.
You may have audited which apps can access your location in your app cleanse. But for that extra bit of security, consider turning off location services for your whole phone. It’s simple enough to turn back on when you need to use a map app. Plus, your phone’s battery won’t drain as quickly when it isn’t blasting your coordinates into the ether.
Get A Password Manager
Getting a password manager may seem like a bad idea at first glance. All of your passwords gathered in one place, protected by another password that’s just waiting to be cracked? It brings to mind eggs and baskets. But if you don’t use a password manager, your cyber hygiene is probably way worse than if you did.
Let’s be real: how many of us actually use a different password for every account we own? Remembering dozens of different 20-character codes is an overwhelming task, driving many to simply reuse the same small handful of birthday-based passwords for everything. This may make things easier in the short term, but it also means dozens of your accounts will be compromised if just one site is hacked.
Password managers take care of this issue, not only generating and encrypting secure, unique passwords, but also remembering them so that you don’t have to. Even if one leaks it will have no impact on the rest of your accounts, saving you hours of changing login details.
All you have to remember is a master password. If even that is too much, some password managers also offer fingerprint or face verification. Whichever you choose, remember to set up two-factor authentication as well.
Clean Up Your Social Media
Our social media accounts are constantly gathering data on us, from volunteered information such as our name, to creepier details such as where we buy caramel-choc reward cupcakes after our regular Saturday morning spin class.
It’s easy to give every , and full access to our lives without even realizing it. Just go into the settings of your Facebook account and take a peek at the ad preferences. Chances are it’s a collage of creepily accurate inferences about you and your interests, including a ton of information you’ve never explicitly told it.
Social media companies can build a fairly accurate profile of you by tracking indicators such as the sites you visit, groups you’re part of, places you check into, and people you tag – all the better to advertise to you, my dear. This includes not only the type of person you are, but . For example, you may spend some time shopping for swimsuits and sunscreen, which implies you’re planning a trip to the beach and might click on ad for beach towels.
If you aren’t cool with massive tech companies watching every breath you take, there are a couple of ways to mitigate it.
The biggest, and perhaps most difficult, is to uninstall your social media app. While all apps come with risks, social media apps are notorious for demanding access to everything from your contacts to your camera. Using the browser version instead helps quarantine its prying eyes.
But let’s be real, most of us aren’t going to do that. So if you’re going to continue Facebooking on the go, you should update your ad preferences so they aren’t personalized. Don’t blindly trust that a simple flick of a switch will make you completely invisible to the powers that be. Updating your preferences at least indicates you aren’t cool with them tracking your activity across the web.
You should also dive into your privacy settings to lock down who can see your posts, what you’ve been tagged in, and who can look you up via your phone number or email.
Think about what you post too — not everybody needs to know that you always walk home from the bus stop on Seventh Avenue after work because you like the smell from the burger place. Go through and untag yourself from some photos, and delete a couple of shameful old comments and posts while you’re at it. Many people have had ancient, ignorant tweets come back to bite them. You don’t want to be one of them.
Finally, don’t use your social media accounts to log in to other sites. It just gives both sites a ton more information about you that they really don’t need to know. Creating separate accounts for everything may seem annoying, but that’s exactly what your password manager is for. If you take away nothing else, at least get a password manager.