Protecting Your Privacy Online

The internet has revolutionised how we find and use information. But if we're not careful, we might be making our personal information available for everyone to see too.

Whilst many people are happy to share every detail of their lives online, many others aren't. So what are the dangers, what information are we unwittingly leaking, and how can we control what happens to our information when it's published?

Jump straight to topic:

Why does privacy matter online?

Privacy file

Everyone has different expectations of privacy. Children brought up on a diet of Facebook and Twitter may shrug their shoulders and say "so what?", whilst the rest of us may be horrified at the thought of our daily activities being available online for all to see.

We all have our own boundaries as to what we're happy to share online. Personal preferences aside though, there are certain cases where real harm can come from too much information being available online. Just a few examples:

But does it really matter?

The examples above are pretty obvious ways in which the internet can be used against us, but what about everything else?

What harm can come from our general internet usage?

Does it matter, for example, if strangers can see all of our boring social media posts? Is it really a problem if big companies track which websites we visit? Do we really need to care that our phones can monitor our location? These are all good questions.

It's easy to think that the list of websites we visit is so trivially unimportant that no one else cares, or that only our friends pay attention to the social media posts celebrating our sport team's victory. But the 2018 revelations of how Cambridge Analytica harvested Facebook data on millions of Americans brought the subject sharply into the spotlight.

In this case, the data was used to profile individuals and (to quote the whistleblower in the case) "target their inner demons" for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

Away from political campaigns, other marketing companies have been using Facebook data for years for advertising purposes.

Facebook likes

The amount of information that we reveal on Facebook, often just by clicking "like", can be scary. Watch this video from the BBC & CIFAS, a UK fraud prevention agency, to see what you might be giving away.

For 5 years from 2010, Facebook allowed anyone to collect the following data about you if your friend (not you!) clicked on their post: the about me section of your profile, actions, activities, your birthday, check-ins, history, events, games activity, groups, hometown, interests, lives, location, notes, online presence, photo and video tags, photos, questions, relationship details, relationships, religion, politics, subscriptions, website and work history.

Just by studying your "likes" companies can learn your sexual orientation, determine your political views, discover any childhood trauma, reveal drug abuse, and much much more.

You might view these practices as shady social manipulation, or you might consider it to be legitimate targetted advertising. You might think it's a massive invasion of privacy, or you might not care. But whatever your opinion, our data in the wrong hands - when done on a big scale and without any transparency - can be used to influence millions of people and affect real social change, whether for the better or worse.

Is this something we should worry about? That's down to your own personal opinion.

Even if you're not so bothered about some aspects of your personal data being public, there are cases where some data being accessible to everyone can cause real harm on a personal level. This page - and indeed this whole section of - is here to show you what information you might be leaking online, why it might matter, and how to prevent it.

Surprising ways in which we leak information

It's not just what we post on social media that gives away information about us. Click each of the sections below to see how you could be leaking private information without knowing it!

So how can we protect our privacy online?

Despite the myriad of ways we can leak information, there are a few simple steps we can take. Perhaps the easiest is just to be careful with what we post on social media, but there are other things we can do too.

Review your social media settings

The first step to controlling your privacy is to review your social media settings. Who can see your posts? What data do advertisers receive about you? And how much is shared to search engines for the world to find?

See which privacy settings to check here...

Check how websites & adverts track you

Our online activity is tracked by advertisers who want to target their ads more effectively. The internet isn't free (as the saying goes - if you're not paying for it, you're the product) but we can still control what advertisers know.

Learn how to stop advertisers tracking us online...

Spring clean your digital footprint

Over the years a lot of our information finds it way online & stays there. Old forgotten web accounts, historic social media posts, embarassing photos - the list goes on. Learn how to find all of this and start a spring clean!

Discover how to remove your digital footprint...

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