The Most Expensive Things in Life are “Free of Charge” - Protect Your Data by@z3nch4n

The Most Expensive Things in Life are “Free of Charge” - Protect Your Data

Zen Chan HackerNoon profile picture

Zen Chan

Interested in Infosec & Biohacking. Security Architect by profession. Love reading and running.

“There are two ways to be rich: One is by acquiring much, and the other is by desiring little.” — Jackie French Koller1948.

Undoubtedly you heard about “digital footprint” before. But you may not truly understand what it is. Like its name, it is the “footprint” or “fingerprint” you left online. We do not use fingerprints as it would be confusing with the one referring to cryptography.

Digital Footprint 101

We need to know what it is before trying to protect it. Digital Footprint is everywhere online. It is all the activities you do with keyboard and mouse, in addition to what we tap and swipe on our precious mobile devices.

Here are some typical locations that we leave most of our footprint.

  • Social Media is not just what you post but also the comments, like, tweet, retweet, and swipe left and right. Unfortunately, most platforms have very long user agreements that are difficult to read.
  • Mobile Apps — Make sure you keep an eye on the updates of data policies and settings.
  • Shopping Websites — the buying habits are precious for ads and marketing.
  • Web Browsers — web browser uses headers and cookies as attributes that can let people identify who you are.

Method 1 — Review Online Accounts, And Clean Them Up

Most people have a few up to hundreds of different accounts online. Like signing up to various online shopping sites that you may have used once or twice because of the new member discount. More than that, there are music apps, fitness trackers, games…

All of them are designed to lure users to sign-up. Each of them stores multiple personal information ranging from:

  • names
  • dates of birth
  • fitness data, body measurements
  • phone numbers
  • credit card numbers
  • your first pet name

To make our life easier, we usually leverage single sign-on (SSO) options such as social media accounts or our email addresses for quick sign-up (as it skips the process to create a username and password for that application.) Not everyone is a “listaholic” who would keep a list of all the online services, online stores, or apps they signed up for over the years.

If that’s your case, your SSO information may help you in this case. No matter which service you use to sign-up for (e.g., Google, Facebook, Apple ID), all options give you a summary of third-party apps access.

With that, you can delete the associate accounts that you don’t use anymore. Moreover, take this chance to remove the access to the one that isn’t worth keeping.

However, if SSO options are not selected or not available, but you used your email address instead, you can search for all the services you use by searching your email inbox for keywords like “unsubscribe,” “sign-in,” or “welcome”. Then, revoke, remove, unsubscribe, and delete all sign-ups that you no longer needed.

Method 2 — Newsletter Subscription

You should do one more thing from your inbox — to reduce your digital footprint by unsubscribing from newsletters that you are no longer interested in.

Many newsletters are complementary to the accounts you’ve signed up for. Creating accounts for services and online stores using your email accounts would result in the bombardment of various discounted offers or time-limited in-app purchases.

The fact is, most people don’t read the user agreement when signing up but click on what gets them over the process the fastest. Those additional data that companies have on you that could fall into the wrong hands. Therefore, we end up with hundreds of hundreds of emails arriving in the subscriptions folder of our inbox, which we won’t read, i.e., clutter.

Once and for all, go through your inbox for a newsletter that can be unsubscribed and also your spam and junk mailboxes for “deep cleaning”. Once unsubscribed, a smart move would be to create a particular email address that you’ll use for one-off purchases.

Many email service providers, free or charged, support alias email addresses that you can use for this specific purpose to isolate all newsletters and sales offers. A better option would be using a “one-time/ disposable email address”. This type of service could give you access to an email address while the data would be deleted after a specific time elapses.

Method 3 — Minimize Your Digital Footprint At the Beginning

It all makes sense. Once you produce less digital footprint, there are less than you need to clean up afterward. So there’s still hope — by applying “Digital Distancing.”

We now all know what social distancing is as it keeps popping up on the news. The idea of digital distancing is like when you want to talk to your boss about your salary rise, and you close the door. Keeping a digital distance could help keep you away from data breaches or eavesdropping for your digital self.

In short, you can start with the following:

  1. Change your Browser — Firefox and Brave are privacy-first web browsers. Or use Tor if you need extra features.
  2. Use Duckduckgo and the “private window” of browsers for searching.
  3. Check Your App Permissions and double-check the privacy settings on social media apps.
  4. Regarding Virtual Private Network (VPN) — Assume VPN providers keep logs and check if the provider support PFS — Perfect Forward Secrecy. Also, check the privacy law and regulations of VPN provider’s locations.
  5. Upgrade Your DNS Security at Home — Protecting our DNS is an essential part of internet security. It is also a way to block many tracking scripts and apps to connect and send data back to their destinations. All internet-accessing devices would have a DNS setting. Better to protect your data from the beginning.

Final Words — The Most Expensive Things in Life are “Free of Charge”

Privacy is the ability to control who can access information about our private life and our activities, and it is critical because:

  • Privacy is our right to choose our ideas and feelings, and most importantly, who to share with.
  • Privacy preserves our private information, such as health or financial data, that we do not want to share.
  • Without privacy, we are not truly free.

We would preferably pay for what we need, rather than the free things given. Before using a free app, you may ask yourself, “how is this company gonna pay their employees? ”, like Google and Facebook, do you know how they become the companies this big by offering “free” services to everyone?

In Japanese, there is an old saying: “nothing costs as much as what is given to us.” (ただより高いものはない) Why is it the most expensive? Because the price you pay does not measure with money but time, privacy, health, freedom, these intangible, which are our most precious assets.

I am not trying to teach you how to be invisible online, as it is impossible to leave ZERO digital footprints unless you are offline and live in a cave. The good news is, there are easy-to-do steps to clean up your digital clutter. So let’s live like Marie Kondo online!

Thank you for reading. May InfoSec be with you🖖.

Also published behind a paywall here.


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