4 Privacy Tips for Distance Learning Students
Dan Arel is a journalist, author, and privacy advocate. He's also the owner of ThinkPrivacy.ch
If you’re like millions around the world getting ready to head back to school this fall, you’re figuring our first, if your campus will even be open, and second, how to adjust to the idea of distance learning.
If you’re a privacy minded student, the idea of distance learning can come with a great deal of stress, and if you’re not yet privacy minded, you may unwillingly end up giving corporations and your school far more personal information than you intend to.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to ensure your privacy while having such little control over the sites and services your school will make you use.
Choose your browser wisely.
A browser such as Firefox or Vivaldi can help you block trackers on sites you’re visiting, reduce your browser fingerprint, and with the right plugins
, can isolate sites into containers so that information can’t be shared between tabs you have open.
Upon visiting various popular school sites for grades ranging from kindergarten to college, I came across no fewer than five trackers monitoring your page use, and on some sites, found ads meant to be tailored to your internet history.
Don’t sign in with Facebook.
If you’re signing up for new accounts for your classes, use the email address provided by your school or a personal email address
that you’ll be using just for school.
Do not use Facebook as your sign in tool. By doing so, you’re giving Facebook permission to access certain amounts of data on your usage of the site and jeopardizing your own safety on the site because you don’t have password and login control.
Also, be sure to use a unique password for each account you open, managed with a password manager
such as Bitwarden, and secured with two-factor authentication (2FA) when available.
Use a secure cloud service to store your documents.
There are a lot of free cloud and office type services (or even discounted ones for students) that offer access to text editors, spreadsheets, and slideshows, and more. They even offer helpful collaboration tools. However, they can come at a price. Some of their privacy policies give them the right to lock you out of your account without warning, and some even give themselves rights to reuse your work.
Instead, look for solutions that are not only free or low cost, but that also respect your privacy
and the ownership of the documents. A Nextcloud server can be run for less than $5 a month, offers access to tools such as LibreOffice or OnlyOffice, which both support collaboration, and can store your files safely encrypted on your server of choice.
Let’s face it, you’re going to be using a search more than ever before while you look up new terminology and research your assignments. While a non-privacy respecting search engine can give you good results, don’t forget about the hidden cost –your privacy– when using those services.
Instead, use a search engine like Startpage, and ensure that your search habits are only known by you, not the search engine you’re using and not the advertisers wanting to find a way to capitalize on your search terms.
Going back to school is stressful enough, going back during a global pandemic adds a whole new level of stress. Thankfully, by only following a few simple steps, you can relieve the stress of knowing that you can protect your personal privacy during these times.
Disclaimer: Dan Arel is a consultant for Startpage.com
Subscribe to get your daily round-up of top tech stories!