Why privacy matters: four ways to maintain your privacy online

Do you know what information is available online about you? How closely do you guard your digital privacy? How often do you even think about these things?

Most Australians are comfortable living a significant proportion of their lives online: spending more than 10 hours a week on Facebook alone. Most (79 per cent) Australians are on social media and 59 per cent of people access social media every day or most days, while more than one-third check social media more than five times a day.

Furthermore, Australians are each spending an average of US$4,500 online every year, trusting internet retailers with their credit card details, home addresses, and purchasing preferences.

And, with the government able to legally track the metadata of Australians’ browsing history, it seems very little is truly private anymore.

The question is: does online privacy matter?

A lot of people place significant trust in the various entities that collect information about them. And they have become so used to transacting online that they don’t even realise just how much information about them is online.

Some would argue that, if you have nothing to hide, then you shouldn’t worry about online privacy. But that’s a fallacious argument: we wear clothes not because we necessarily have something to hide but because it’s just common sense to cover up in public.

What you do online, where you go, what you buy, and how you pay for it are your business; no one else’s. Companies want to use this information so they can market to you more effectively. But you don’t have to let them do that.

It’s important to understand the implications of your online behavior and take steps to maintain your privacy.

This doesn’t mean you need to become an expert in international digital espionage, using a myriad of proxies and firewalls to keep your identity secret. There are four easy steps anyone can take to maintain their privacy online:

  1. Use a virtual private network (VPN), which is easy to find online. A VPN makes it impossible for your service provider to see your browsing history, protecting against eavesdropping and government surveillance of your metadata.
  2. Make your social media accounts as private as possible. Don’t rely on default settings. Take advantage of built-in security features in social media platforms to customise your privacy settings.
  3. Use a secure web browser and ensure you have anti-malware and other security measures in place.
  4. Avoid using public Wi-Fi, where your browsing can be monitored by anyone.

If you are a business owner, customer privacy is incredibly important. There have been several recent data breaches where customer information was misused or hacked, and that is leading to a lack of trust on what to share with potential product and service providers.

If you want to find out more about what a company can do to protect customer data and how to assure customers that their data is safe, read my recent article in The AFR here.

If you want to read some further tips to help you protect your online identity, read our blog on why business cybersecurity hygiene must start at home.