Five Steps for Protecting Your Personal Data Online

By taking just a few steps, you can ensure that your personal information stays private and stop companies from profiling and targeting you.

Björn GreifEditor

[This post has been completely updated and republished several times since its initial publication in 2018.]

On the occasion of Safer Internet Day, we explain how you can increase your online safety and better protect your privacy online in just a few steps. If you follow these tips, you will be safe from data collectors and scammers who want to get their hands on your personal data:

1. Use an Anti-Tracking Tool on All Your Devices

Desktop anti-tracking extensions like Ghostery identify third-party trackers and allow you to control which trackers you permit while you browse the internet. They also ensure that personally identifiable information isn’t sent to third parties that you’ve chosen to block. There are also browsers and mobile apps such as Cliqz that offer the same capabilities as an anti-tracking extension.

2. Use an Ad Blocker on All Your Devices

Ads clutter your browsing experience and are often unwanted and obtrusive. Furthermore, some ad practices, known as “Malvertising”, are outright dangerous to the user: malicious advertisers buy ad space on websites and then place ads on these sites that are infected with viruses, spyware, or malware. The Ghostery products as well as the Cliqz Browser for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS offer ad blocking and anti-tracking capabilities. Of course, you can turn off the ad blocker on specific websites such as news sites to allow them to earn money from advertising.

3. Change Cookie Settings & Adjust Your Privacy Settings

In your browser settings, delete and block third-party cookies. When setting up software, accounts and online services, pay attention to your privacy settings and restrict data access if necessary. The open source tool re:consent allows you to quickly and easily check and change your consent for data processing on websites. The Cliqz Browser for Windows and Mac additionally offers a Cookie Pop-up Blocker that hides annoying cookie notices on websites and automatically denies consent requests for data collection. For social media services, you can limit who can access the content you share. Learn more in our guides for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

4. Use a VPN on All Your Devices

VPNs (virtual private networks) provide online privacy and anonymity by allowing you to access a secure private network while sharing data across a public network. They use encryption protocols to encrypt any transmitted data and they disguise the IP address assigned to your device – your IP address is used when building your digital fingerprint. The desktop app Ghostery Midnight offers a VPN, a system-wide ad blocker and protection from data collectors at the device level. This way you are not only protected in your browser but on your entire device across apps.

5. Beware of Phishing Schemes

Don’t open emails that seem suspicious or click on any links that might be in the body of these suspicious emails. If the sender of the email is not someone you know and trust, mark the email as spam and block the sender. There are browsers that protect you against phishing. For example, Cliqz offers a browser with an anti-phishing feature built into it that protects you from deceptive websites trying to access your passwords or personal data. It detects up to four times more phishing attempts than Google Safe Browsing and works considerably faster, uncovering phishing sites within an hour.

In addition to these steps, it is always wise to keep your operating system and applications up to date and use up-to-date security software. You should also use strong passwords and, if available, enable two-factor authentication for logging in to web services.