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Life Kit: Tips To Strengthen Your Digital Privacy

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

More time at home during the pandemic has meant more time online for many of us. And as we spend more of our lives in the digital world, our personal information can be compromised, and our technology is tracking our movements. For NPR's Life Kit, reporter Laurel Wamsley talked to experts to find out the best ways to keep our personal data safe and got a list of things you can do today to protect yourself and your data.

LAUREL WAMSLEY, BYLINE: Eva Galperin is the director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She says we all have something worth protecting, even if we think of ourselves as having nothing to hide.

EVA GALPERIN: Most of us still lock our doors. We still close our windows and have shades on them. We still don't run around sharing our passwords or our credit card numbers with just about anybody.

WAMSLEY: That's true on the Internet, too. Galperin says there are some steps that make sense for almost all of us. So that's takeaway No. 1 - practice good security hygiene to keep your accounts safe.

GALPERIN: All of your passwords should be passphrases.

WAMSLEY: That's right, passphrases, longer than a password. Passphrases are strong and unique for each site. So don't use 1234. And don't use the same password for different websites. You don't want all of your accounts to be compromised because one of them gets hacked.

GALPERIN: And then, of course, you have the problem of how you're going to remember all of your long and strong and unique passwords. And the answer is you don't. You use a password manager in order to manage them all. And then all you have to do is remember the passphrase for your password manager.

WAMSLEY: Then turn on two-factor authentication for your accounts. That's where you're asked to put in your cellphone number so you can receive a text with an additional number you input to log in. And those nudges you get from your computer or phone to install the latest security update? You should download those. And make sure you're not unwittingly handing over your passwords or personal information to bad actors.

That's our second takeaway - beware of phishing. These attempts can happen via email, text or phone call. But there are often signs that these messages aren't legit, like spelling errors or weird web addresses. If it looks fishy, it could be phishing.

Matt Mitchell is a tech fellow at the Ford Foundation and the founder of CryptoHarlem, where he teaches people how to protect their privacy. He suggests you take a look at the apps on your phone.

MATT MITCHELL: Ask yourself - when did I install this thing? Can I delete it right now?

WAMSLEY: For a lot of things, you can use the browser on your phone instead of an app. And Mitchell says that's better because browsers can only get certain information.

MITCHELL: They could still track you with pixels and all kinds of stuff. But when I have an app, I have an accelerometer. I have a camera. I have a microphone. I have your contacts. I have so much access to your data. The first thing I do is tell people, like, let's get rid of some apps.

WAMSLEY: That's takeaway three - get rid of apps you don't really need. He has another tip, too - going to myactivity.google.com and deleting your history.

MITCHELL: And it will show you every search term and everything you've ever done, every YouTube video you ever looked at, all that stuff. And I tell them to delete everything. And it'll say, are you sure you want to delete this? 'Cause if you delete this, it might affect some stuff. And just blow it all away.

WAMSLEY: The experts point out that in the U.S., we don't have a general national privacy law that protects our everyday Internet use. So if you really want better privacy online, you need to call your congressperson and tell them you care about it. We're going to be on the Internet for a long time. The more each of us understands how our data is collected and used and how to keep private what we want to keep private, the better, safer and healthier our digital lives will be.

Laurel Wamsley, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF VAULTS' "LIFESPAN")

MARTIN: Laurel reported a whole episode about how your data is used and more ideas to keep your information safe for NPR's Life Kit. And you can find that at npr.org/lifekit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.