Digital Considerations

In this digital day and age, it’s pretty easy to recognize an obvious scam. Every few weeks, I get a text message that asks me to put in some type of identifying information, whether it’s my phone number, name or even credit card information. In fact, I get so many scams I easily pulled one up to include in this post.

Although text scams are annoying, it’s straightforward enough to block the number and move on with your life. When browsing on the web, though, sometimes digital threats are not so obvious.

Digital Threats

Advertisers and other sites use cookies and fingerprinting to collect your data as you browse. Let’s break down those digital threats so we can better understand them.

Cookies are bits of information that your web browser saves as you peruse sites looking for the latest news, latest deals, or anything on the web. The information cookies keep, like search history, username, and preferences can be accessed and read. For example, if you visit a site more than once, the cookie might tell the site that this is your fourth visit in a week.

Many times, sites share the information cookies collect with advertisers who can send you targeted ads.

The Guardian, 2014

Over the past few years, companies like Firefox and Google have been taking steps away from the use of cookies, but not all of those changes are happening immediately.

Google, for example, announced they would step away from third-party cookies on Chrome. The company still has plans for advertisers, though. FLOC, Federated Learning of Cohorts, one of Google’s ideas to replace cookies, would put users into groups and send out ads based on those groups.

It’s important to remember that solutions like FLOC don’t mean your information is protected. Instead, the company is planning to keep collecting the data, but without the use of cookies. Right now, Google’s plan to phase out cookies has been delayed until 2024.

Fingerprinting is another way companies can collect data without you knowing. Like how your fingerprints are unique identifiers to you, companies can collect unique identifiers about your digital patterns. Information about the sites you visit, your device, and your network all come together to form uniquely identifiable information about you.

What disturbs me most about how companies go about collecting data is that we as media consumers are mostly unaware of it.

Let’s say you put information about your income, your birthday, and your health history on a website that you trust. You are comfortable with having the website you visited knowing the information you shared, but you didn’t realize a third-party could take that information and use it to market medications to you. Would you consent to sharing that information with a site you didn’t know could see it?

Protect Yourself

So what can you do to enhance your digital security and protect yourself from threats you can’t see? 

One of the strongest ways to digitally protect yourself is to use a VPN, or a virtual private network. VPNs can hide your IP address as you browse so you can use the websites you want to without picking up cookies or trackers. Additionally, using a VPN can make browsing on public wi-fi safer. 

Another easy way to protect yourself when using any apps or browsers is to keep them updated. 

Hackers are always working to break into apps and gather information from sites, so staying up to date with security systems is critical to keeping yourself safe. 

The last recommendation I have for keeping yourself safe online (although there are so many options ) is to get a personal, a professional, and a commercial email. Even having just more than one email is better than using one email tied to every aspect of your life online. 

I personally have an email I use for promotions, certain purchases, and newsletters I do not take very seriously. By using multiple emails, I can avoid clogging up my “good” email with ads, and I like to think I create a degree of separation with those emails.

What is the most important to you when it comes to digital security? What are your go-to ways to protect yourself?

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