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

These days the Christmas sales are really picking up speed. More and more advertising messages with tempting offers are circulating on the Internet, with which vendors and online shops vie for buyers’ favor on social networks or by e-mail. They often use trackers that collect the personal data of users and record their browsing behavior in order to profile and target them. By following these steps, you can protect your personal data and browse the web safely:

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 desktop extension and the Ghostery Privacy Browser for mobile as well as the Cliqz Browser for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS offer ad blocking and anti-tracking capabilities.

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. 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.

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.