How to be a digital sleuth? Tips on enhancing privacy.
To get one thing straight, you don’t owe anyone your personal information. You wouldn’t give your phone number or address out freely if a stranger came and inquired. It is the same with virtual strangers, only it hasn’t really started to “feel” like that.
This article is significantly about not revealing your personal data or PII that could be used for locating or targeting you if a cybercriminal deemed it necessary. So, let us take a look at what you could do to keep those strangers at bay.
Where are we putting our information? – the most important question you must be asking yourself.
We are called to provide our personal info for almost everything that we access today. In the physical world, it comes in the forms of applying for passport, applying at a university or getting an internet connection at home. Here, giving the information is necessary as it avails the benefits you are applying for. This can be categorized as critical information because of the various roles it plays in your life.
The next one can be called the non-critical stuff which is almost everywhere, majority being online. These can range from random surveys to unnecessary newsletters or subscription to free services. Here, in almost all cases, the serving company is looking for just one thing: your personal data.
Why is everyone after your data? Because data is the new oil. Your personal data is the most precious commodity in today’s digital world. That’s what fuels the digital economy. And on the other side, it is the favorite meal of online fraudsters. You can risk your identity or financial status if a culprit gets hold of sensitive information about you. So, let’s take a look at some of the things you can do to mitigate it.
Assigning categories of requests.
As discussed above, you can categorize your information into critical and non-critical information (these are just customized labels – you can use yours). The idea is to be able to distinguish between the services that are important and requires your data to effectively serve you, and on the other hand, the services that spam you with trash. Once categorized, use different set of personal info to feed them (explained in the next point).
- Secondary data bank.
If you are bombarded routinely with requests to access your personal data, it is best to create a secondary data bank. Creating secondary data (yep, it’s legal) will enable you to slip out of spams. This way the services can still reach you but can’t bother or spam you. There are two key types of information to consider.
- Secondary email addresses.
Have you heard of burner emails? These are disposable email accounts that specifically works for solving our main issue: spamming. These addresses can be used for unimportant sites that asks for your email. The addresses in this case are either randomly created by the host site or you can choose any name (no issue of availability) that you prefer. Some of the popular platforms are Maildrop, Mailnesia, GuerillaMail and 10 Minute Mail. All of these services have similar features that include
- To be able to register your burner emails with most of the popular websites.
- Free of password hassle.
- Email verification from sites are auto-confirmed.
- Up to 10-20 emails capacity.
- Auto-deletion of emails after a specified period of time (10 minutes to 5 days depending on the site).
- Filtering spam mails by running it against a central list of known miscreants.
- Create many burner emails at the same site.
Notice: Some websites that requests for email verification actively block some burner email sites. So, it is wise to check all the platforms and find out which one works best for the purpose.
- Secondary Phone Numbers.
The new tech enables all kinds of miracles one can dream of. While only a few decades ago, the struggle to get a personal phone number was real, now it is cheap and easily available. Instead of handing out your primary/official number to all bodies of services, the best thing you can do is to give the unimportant ones a virtual number that works just like your personal phone number. This secondary number is ideal for interacting with people on Amazon, social media platforms, or any non-legal form that you are asked to sign.
Some free options in this regard include Google voice and Pinger Textfree. Google Voice works on all platforms (computers, Chromebooks, iOS and Android devices). You can find it in your google account in the application dropdown menu. A weak spot is that it works only on Wi-Fi. You can create your account and record a personal voicemail greeting or choose the one provided. Voice has features like call blocking, voicemail transcription, spam filtering and a strong search engine. There are paid versions that lets you in on more features.
Pinger Textfree, like Voice, works on all platforms. The only downside is that the free version is funded by advertising so you get a lot of ads on the app while texting or calling. There are paid versions to this one too which will get you out of ads and provide you with more advanced features.
Speaking of paid options, apps like Sideline and Phoner are reliable options. Sideline works for both iOS and Android phones. It provides a virtual number for texting and voicemail, facility to block numbers, and voicemail transcription. The significant feature is that it works on both Wi-Fi and cellular networks. It offers a 7-day free trial version after which it costs $9.99 per month with higher prices for business customers that comes with extra features.
Phoner works on Apple’s and Google’s ecosystems and also through the web. It provides 100 free credits for texting and calling after which the recharge begins with $1.99 for 1000 extra credits and blows up to $99.99 for 60,000 credits. Phoner is quite similar to its competitors but one feature that stands out is the option to record calls. The rec button once pressed records all your incoming and outgoing calls which you may use to assess later. However, before you venture into this feature, make sure the receiver has given you consent to record calls. The laws in certain countries address this issue of recording and it might be troublesome if the other person remains oblivious to being recorded. Get educated and go for the old school method of “asking” which will save you time later.
Please remember, this is not paranoia but some safety measures that are building traction in the cyberworld. With a little bit of effort, you can get establish a proper foundation and build from there. And as always, improvise! If you have more ideas, share with us in the comments below.