This post does not intend to address the many definitions of privacy or the many technical means of protecting and invading one's privacy. There are already many posts addressing this aspect and brief search can turn up lots of answers for you.
This post is only intended to help the least technically savvy among us in maintaining some small amount of data security and privacy without getting very technical about things. It was derived from many diverse sources on basic privacy.
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Recently, a friend handed me his phone and asked me to take a picture. “What’s the password?” I asked. “I don’t have one,” he said. I think I must have had a puzzled look on my face as, I suppose, I tend to grimace when someone I know tells me they’re choosing not to take one of the very simplest steps for privacy protection, allowing anyone to look through their phone with the greatest of ease, to see whichever messages, photos, and sensitive apps they please.
So, this post is for you, big guy with no password on your Galaxy/iPhone/Nexus/whatever, and for you, girl who stays signed into GMail on your boyfriend’s computer, and for you, person walking down the street having a loud conversation on your mobile phone about your recent doctor’s visit of that odd ailment you have. These are the really, really simple things you could be doing to keep casual intruders from invading your privacy.
1 Password protect your phone! It is one of the simplest things you can do to most devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) with the least amount of effort. Many people tell me it is “annoying” to take the two seconds to type in a password each time before using the phone. Gimme a break, everyone!. Choosing not to password protect these devices is the digital equivalent of leaving your home or car unlocked. If you’re lucky, no one will take advantage of you. Or maybe the contents will be ravaged and your favorite speakers and/or secrets stolen. If you’re not paranoid enough, spend some time reading entries in Reddit, where many Internet users go to discuss issues of the heart. A good percentage of the entries start, “I know I shouldn't have, but I peeked at my gf’s phone and read her text messages, and…” Oh, and before you pick a password like "123456" or "password" do yourself a big favor and visit the Worst passwords of all time web page! No laughing allowed!
2 Turn on 2-step authentication in GMail (that is, if you use GMail, of course). The biggest conclusion you can derive from the epic hack of Wired’s Mat Honan is that it probably wouldn't have happened if he’d turned on “2-step verification” in GMail. This simple little step turns your device into a security fob — in order for your GMail account to be accessed from a new device, a person (you?) needs a code that’s sent to your phone. This means that even if someone gets your password somehow, they won’t be able to use it to sign into your account from a strange computer. (How it works - video) Google says that millions of people use this tool, and that “thousands more enroll each day.” Be one of those people! Yes, it can be annoying if your phone battery dies or if you’re traveling. Of course, you can temporarily turn it off when you’re going to be abroad or phone-less. Alternately, you can leave it permanently turned off, and increase your risk of getting epically hacked. Which do you like better?
3 Put a Google Alert on your name! This is an incredibly easy way to stay on top of what’s being said about you online. It takes less than a minute to do. Go here: http://www.google.com/alerts; anyone can do it easily. Google Alerts are email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your queries. Enter your name, and variations of your name, with quotation marks around it. Boom. You’re done. Now, that wasn't too tough, was it? I didn't think so. :-]
4 Sign out of your Facebook / Twitter / GMail / etc. account! Do it each time you are done with your emailing, social networking, tweeting, and other forms of general time-wasting. Not only will this reduce the amount of tracking of you as you surf the Web, this also prevents someone who later sits down at your computer from loading one of these up and getting snoopy. This becomes much more important when you’re using someone else’s or a public computer. Yes, people actually forget to do this, with terrible outcomes. Incidentally, if you have the Chrome browser on your PC and you use “incognito” (Ctrl Shift N) or Internet Explorer and you use “InPrivate” (Ctrl Shift P) you will automatically be logged out when you close the window, and no cookies or passwords will be stored. Pretty cool, right?
5 Don’t give out your email address, phone number, or zip code when asked. Hey, if some scary (or weird) looking dude in a bar asked for your phone number, you'd say no, wouldn't you? But when the person asking is a uniform-wearing employee at a local store, many people hand over their digits without hesitation. Stores often use this info to help profile you and your purchase. Yes, you can say no. If you feel badly about it, just pretend the employee is that scary looking dude!
6 Change Your Facebook settings to “Friends Only.” I really thought that by now, with the many Facebook privacy stories which have been published, everyone would have their accounts locked down and boarded up like a cheap Florida house before a hurricane. Not so. There are still lots and lots of people on Facebook who are as exposed on the internet as Katy Perry at that water park. Go to your Facebook privacy settings and make sure the “default privacy” setting isn't set to "public"! If it’s set to “Custom” make sure you know and understand any “Networks” you’re sharing with.
7 Use unique passwords for every site you go to. This sounds really difficult but - surprise - it is quite simple! Password managers come in many sizes and flavors these days. They will generate complex passwords and remember them for you. Protect yourself against phishing scams, online fraud, and malware. Many of these apps have versions you can use on your computer as well as on your tablet and phone. Some are free and some cost money. Your choice. Here, let me show you how simple it is to find a bunch of them: http://bit.ly/V4xehO! As I said, there are many - the one I use is this one here.
8 Clear your browser history and cookies on a regular basis. Do you remember the last time you did that? If you just shrugged, consider changing your browser settings so it is automatically cleared every session. Go to the “privacy” setting in your Browser’s “Options.” Tell it to “never remember your history.” This will reduce the amount you’re tracked online. Consider one of the several browser add-ons, like TACO, to further reduce tracking of your online behavior.
In conclusion, here's one from the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog.
As I said, this is not a technical article but it may make you think if it does the job right.
Sixth Circuit: No Expectation of Privacy in Cell Phone GPS Data
Drug dealers, beware. Your pay-as-you-go phones probably have GPS. And, according to a federal appeals court in Cincinnati, police can track the signal they emit without a warrant.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the Drug Enforcement Administration committed no Fourth Amendment violation in using a drug runner’s cellphone data to track his whereabouts. The DEA obtained a court order to track Melvin Skinner’s phone, after finding his number in the course of an investigation of a large-scale drug trafficking operation.
The DEA didn’t know much about Mr. Skinner or what he looked like. They knew him as Big Foot, the drug mule, and they suspected he was communicating with the leader of the trafficking operation via a secret phone that had been registered under a false name. Agents used the GPS data from his throw-away phone to track him, and he was arrested in 2006 at a rest stop near Abilene, Texas, with a motorhome filled with more than 1,100 pounds of marijuana.
Mr. Skinner was convicted of drug trafficking and conspiracy to commit money laundering. On appeal, he argued that the data emitted from his cell phone couldn’t be used because the DEA failed to obtain a warrant for it, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The question in the case was whether Mr. Skinner had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data his phone emitted. It’s a question that several courts are wrestling with. Federal law enforcement authorities, as in this case, say that investigators don’t need search warrants to gather such information.
Justice Department lawyers argued in a court brief that “a suspect’s presence in a publicly observable place is not information subject to Fourth Amendment protection.”
Judge John M. Rogers, writing for the majority, agreed:
There is no Fourth Amendment violation because Skinner did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the data given off by his voluntarily procured pay-as-you-go cell phone. If a tool used to transport contraband gives off a signal that can be tracked for location, certainly the police can track the signal. The law cannot be that a criminal is entitled to rely on the expected untrackability of his tools. Otherwise, dogs could not be used to track a fugitive if the fugitive did not know that the dog hounds had his scent. A getaway car could not be identified and followed based on the license plate number if the driver reasonably thought he had gotten away unseen. The recent nature of cell phone location technology does not change this. If it did, then technology would help criminals but not the police.
He was joined by Judge Eric L. Clay. Judge Bernice B. Donald, who concurred but disagreed with the majority’s Fourth Amendment reasoning, said the DEA couldn’t have figured out the identity of Mr. Skinner, the make and model of his vehicle or the route he would be driving without the GPS data from his phone.
“It is not accurate…to say that police in this case acquired only information that they could have otherwise seen with the naked eye,” she wrote. “While it is true that visual observation of Skinner was possible by any member of the public, the public would first have to know that it was Skinner they ought to observe.”
A lawyer for Mr. Skinner didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Comments? Suggestions? Ideas? They are all welcome.
Flame wars (relating to privacy or otherwise) are not. :-]