September 9, 2022

Cassia Artanegara


What can I do to protect myself online?

Illustration for What can I do to protect myself online?

We use technology all the time. But it’s hard to know what’s going on with your data and what you can do to protect yourself. I recently compiled a simple list of recommendations to share with neighbors in the East Bay. 

For almost 50 years Albany and Berkeley have co-hosted the Solano Avenue Stroll, the area’s largest street festival! This year, thanks to Good Research’s generosity, Data Curious is hosting a booth. This is a great opportunity to get people energized and interested in their data, privacy, and technology. In preparation for the booth, I asked my colleagues, "What are five ways someone can protect themselves and their data online?" Given their range of expertise and experiences, I expected a wide range of answers - and got them!

The most common answers that we added to a flyer:

  1. Review your privacy and permissions settings frequently.
  2. Deactivate, delete, or remove apps and accounts you no longer use. Make sure the devices and apps you do keep are up to date.
  3. Before using "Sign in with Facebook or Google" when creating an account, decide whether you really want to connect the data from those two accounts.
  4. Don’t reuse passwords - use a password manager to reduce the hassle.
  5. Use privacy-first software, like Brave (browser), Signal (messaging), and DuckDuckGo (search engine).

But they also have a lot of other good suggestions that didn’t fit into a small flyer. Here they are!


Don’t reuse passwords.

Do use a password manager to store and create complex, unique passwords.

Do deactivate or remove accounts you don’t use anymore. This helps prevent the old account from being hacked into or taken over for other uses.

Don’t use "sign in with Facebook/Google/X" by default. Think about whether you truly want these two “services” to be connected. 

Do create a classic email/password account that is even easier with a password manager.

Do use Two Factor Authentication whenever possible. It provides an extra layer of protection beyond your username and password. Really, do this! 


Don’t assume something is official because it has the “same name,” especially with apps. 

Do check that, for example, if you install the Wikipedia app, that it’s from the Wikimedia Foundation - not a random developer)

Don’t overlook the web address, or URL.

Do learn how to read a web address - right to left -  and what parts can be changed/spoofed. (The green lock of HTTPS doesn’t necessarily mean you are safe! We’ll write more about this later.)


Don’t ignore system or app updates 

Do keep your phone, laptop, and browser up to date. 

Don’t keep apps you don’t use 

Do delete or clean up apps regularly 

Don’t use one browser for everything

Do use different “browser profiles” or even accounts (in Firefox there is an extension called “multi-account container”) to separate social media/shopping (full of trackers), from other more sensitive aspects of your life, like your work, finances, healthcare, etc. 

Design and behavior

Do be mindful of personal facts you share online, especially personal information like age, place of residence, full name, etc. Use the “close friends” option when sharing personal details about your life.

Do read terms and policies carefully! (Yes, the burden is on us, the “users,” to pay attention. Please at the very least, skim instead of blindly clicking.

Do spend at least 15 minutes on Deceptive Design. It'll immediately change your online experience. You'll begin to notice a bunch of shady design elements and tricks to get your clicks. For example, if the cookie banner that pops up on a webpage does not allow a decline cookies button or buries the decline optional cookies option in the consent dialog, you will quickly know what the company values (hint: it's definitely not you.) 

Do look for a company’s privacy trust center to understand what they value and if it's in alignment with what you value.

Call to action

Do let your elected officials know you care about this issue. Congressman Ro Khanna said, “I don’t get calls into my office asking about privacy laws…People have to say, this is not about tech. This is about our democracy. This is about our economy. And if we get to that point, then we will start to see the reform.”

Do get curious!