Now that we have entered a new year, it’s time to reflect and take a look at the digital side of our lives to assure everything is in order.
Given the success rate of New Year’s resolutions, it’s probably better to call these ideas suggestions that will improve your digital life in 2011.
“Privacy is dead,” former Sun MicroSystems head Scott McNealy once famously said, but perhaps, like the old man in Monty Python’s “Holy Grail,” it might be better to say it’s not dead yet. For instance, the federal government is looking at new privacy requirements for online companies that may include a “do not track” option for consumers. That initiative springs from the fact that everything we do online can be followed to some extent. After all, being connected means exchanging data. Some companies, however, are more aggressive about it than others. Here are some ways to help protect your cyber privacy and simplify your cyber life.
Watch those cookies. When you visit a website, it typically loads small bits of code, called cookies, to make it work better or do things like remember your password so you don’t have to log in every time. On your travels around the Web, you can pick up cookies that shadow your movements and build a virtual profile that can be sold to marketers. One way to ward off this marketing snoop is to set your browser to block third party cookies. These are cookies installed not by the site itself but by advertisers and others. Your options include adjusting the privacy settings of your browser to block third-party cookies; looking into the browser’s cookie jar (go to “show cookies”) and deleting the ones you don’t recognize; or more simply, periodically deleting all of them. In that case, you will have to log in again to sites that require a password.
Change your passwords. Consider changing your passwords every so often. The weak point to passwords for most people is the fact that they have to remember them, which typically involves writing them down some place. It’s tempting to use things we remember easily, such as names and anniversaries, but the easy ones are the least secure. Try for something longer with a mix of letters and numbers—and try not to save them in a list in your computer. And of course, never give your password to anyone asking for it online.
Be careful on social media. Watch what you say and post on social media. While it’s great to be friends online, it’s worth remembering that whole “six degrees of separation” idea—that we’re all ultimately connected to everyone else. Not all of those people have your best interests at heart. And college students should keep in mind that employers do make a point of checking social media sites. Postings of questionable taste may be a career killer.
Delete old emails. Got 10,000 emails from that email group you joined awhile back but haven’t really bothered with lately? It’s time to clean up the clutter. Simply sort the email by the sender’s name, highlight the ones you don’t need and batch delete them. At work, you will want to be mindful of your company’s document retention policy, which lays out the schedule for when emails may be deleted to comply with legal requirements.
Take out the trash. All those deleted emails may simply go into the computer’s trash bin. If that’s the case, the next step is to actually take out the trash by “emptying” the trash folder. This is also true for all those aging files that you never look at anymore and don’t need. Some house cleaning will help make your system a bit peppier. Remember, though, that from a forensic computing standpoint even deleted data may never be truly deleted.
Back it up. Got files you can’t afford to lose? Back them up. You can choose a variety of online backup services that save your files to remote servers, or you can simply buy a low-cost external hard drive. As an extra option, you can free up space on your computer by storing music photos and video on an external hard drive.
With those chores taken care of, it’s time to get back to enjoying all the good things that technology brings us. Happy browsing!