10 steps

Protecting your personal privacy can at times feel like a relentless task. All those pop ups asking you to accept cookies on every website you visit, hundreds of passwords to remember (all with a mix of special characters, numbers and letters), and a Google or Apple voice assistant in the corner of the room, listening to everything you say. 

The infiltration of technology in our lives means there are a myriad of ways for companies to collect our personal data. Thankfully, the GDPR goes some way towards protecting that information, but there are steps that we can all take too.

Here are ten ways that I protect my personal information: 

1. I use a password manager  

Passwords are rubbish. They are frustrating. People who know more than me about security have been talking for years about how passwords will be replaced by something else. But it hasn’t happened yet (although Fido2 may be the answer). What I do know about security is that poor use of passwords is a major cause of data breach. I use a password manager and one really secure password, which I only share with my password manager software. The software then chooses really long and obscure passwords for all of the services that need one. At last count there were over 170. That would be a lot of passwords to remember. 

2. I use a VPN

I don’t trust public Wi-fi networks. It is just too easy for them to be taken over by people with bad intentions. I have software set up on my phone and my laptop which automatically routes all my wireless traffic through a virtual private network (VPN). I feel safer trusting the VPN provider to protect my privacy when I’m using a random wireless network I pick up in a coffee shop. There are lots of providers out there but I use NordVPN on my laptop and mobile. 

3. I don’t discuss business or personal matters on my mobile in a public place

Why do people do that? And why do they always sit in my train carriage? My business and my personal life are far too valuable for just anyone to know about them. I save these phone calls until I’m at home or in the office. And if I’m dialling into a Zoom call from home (other video conference providers are available), I make sure I use a generic background to prevent someone from seeing something they shouldn’t. 

4. When I can, I make privacy conscious choices

If I’m buying a book online, I’ll choose to buy it from an independent bookseller who doesn’t hoover up personal data, even if it means I sometimes have to pay a bit more (I know not everyone has this luxury). If I’m shopping at the supermarket, I choose not to visit the ones that have done away with tills and instead follow me around with hundreds of cameras to track my purchases. Here’s looking at you Amazon Fresh and Aldi in Greenwich. 

5. I never give retailers my email address if I don’t have to

I don’t like this new way of doing business. Retailers are increasingly asking if they can email you a receipt after you’ve made a purchase these days. I always say no. It’s not necessary and I don’t want to be signed up to marketing distribution lists, or have my email address sold to the highest bidder. In fact the next time someone asks you if they can email you a receipt, I dare you to reply: “Can I have your telephone number?”

6. I’m careful about what cookies I accept

A lot of online retailers are devious when asking for your consent to cookies. They try to make you click on the “Accept All” button. I don’t do it. I always try to click on the “Save my choices” button, or even sometimes “Reject All”. Nine times out of 10, the website still works! 

7. I shred any paper correspondence with personal information in it

I shred any piece of paper with my name, address, or account details on it. I don’t put it in the normal bin, or the recycling until it has been shredded. That goes for personal and business correspondence. There have just been too many horror stories of personal information found in the street, or round the back of offices not to do this. And shredding at the end of the day is really very satisfying. 

8. I use two factor authentication

Two-factor authentication (also known as 2FA) is an extra step to keep my online accounts secure. After entering my username and password, I am asked to provide a second piece of information – usually a six-digit code that’s sent to my mobile phone but it could also be answers to a secret question, a specific keystroke pattern or involve use of a tool such as Google Authenticator. Security experts say this is a good idea to protect my security. And I believe in the power of experts.

9. I’m sceptical about loyalty schemes

Ever since Tesco launched its Clubcard, retailers have wanted our personal data. They want it so they can sell us more. I choose not to join loyalty schemes. Retailers say they want to send me tailored offers. What that really means is that they have profiled me so that they can make more money out of me. As far as I’m concerned, “loyalty” should have nothing to do with my personal shopping habits.

10. I watch out for doorbells with cameras

The ever growing network of video cameras creeps me out. People say, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you needn’t be worried”, or “It’s for security”. I just don’t like the idea of anyone (including the police) being able to track me or my children, wherever they go. I don’t want my neighbours or anyone they share data with whether consciously or otherwise knowing when I go out, when I come back and who I’m with. I don’t want them knowing when my kids are alone in the house. I don’t want people recording my conversations in the street: these doorbells often have powerful microphones. I live on a street with a school at one end. If someone stuck a microphone and a long lens out of the window and watched the kids go by, they’d be called all sorts. However, nobody says anything about the person with the Ring doorbell who is effectively doing exactly the same thing.

In a rapidly changing world, it makes sense to do what you can to protect yourself – and your family – from overzealous surveillance. If you work for a business that you feel could be doing more on privacy, take our free GDPR compliance health check to take the first step.