Individuals struggle with balancing their social media usage and protecting their personal information. In fact, nearly three out of four Americas (73%) fear online privacy, according to the United States National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Given the lax manner in which many vendors protect that information, these concerns are pretty legitimate. So, what can someone do to protect themselves?

Tip 1: monitor your cookies

Cookies are monitoring tools that track what you do when you access the internet. They see which websites you visit and store information about your browsing history. Increasingly, companies use that data to analyze your behavior, figure out who you are (male, female, young, old) and more effectively market their goods and services.

Browsers, such as Google’s Chrome and Microsoft’s Edge, include a private browsing function, which helps users protect themselves when surfing the internet. The settings automatically notify you if a cookie is about to be installed on your system. You then have the option of rejecting it or going elsewhere.

Tip 2: be cautious when using public wifi hotspots

To entice customers, many businesses offer free, public wifi. While convenient, the services usually come with caveats. In many cases, these networks offer no encryption, so hackers can easily break in and look at whatever you are transmitting.

You can protect yourself by running a VPN (Virtual Private Network) software whenever you transmit information from these locations. It encrypts information, so it becomes more difficult for the bad guys to access or steal your personal information.

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Tip 3: turn off your GPS

Suppliers also want to know where you are physically when you’re online, and mobile phones’ inherent GPS capabilities make that possible. The vendors use that information to relay special promotions from retailers in your area. Consumers often feel uncomfortable with that level of scrutiny, and turn that GPS tracking function off.

Theoretically, an On/Off setting eliminates the problem; however, suppliers like Google have made the process more challenging.

In some cases, turning the Off switch stops location tracking when you use your GPS, but it may still be on when you access other Google mobile location-based apps. Therefore, you need to check all of your apps to be sure that you’re not being tracked.

Tip 4: disable JavaScripts

JavaScripts are software snippets that run in your browser and applications. Disabling JavaScripts eliminates another common way that advertisers (or hackers) track you. However, this change can render some web pages nonfunctional.

Tip 5: open up a secondary email account

Nowadays, companies want an authentication token before letting users onto their site, and often this is an email address. Once you enter it, lo and behold, your inbox starts to be flooded with solicitations.

Spammers hunt in public forums for posted email addresses and email addresses used in message headers and add them to their target lists.

One way to avoid this problem is opening up a second email account, one that serves as a repository for junk mail. The advertising-supported email service providers, like Google and Yahoo, allow individuals to create a free email account. You can limit the use of your primary email to your friends and co-workers.

Bottom line

Privacy is a growing concern for consumers today. Recent headlines about the misuse of their data by companies like Facebook underscore the need for individuals to protect their personal information.

While they may not be able to thwart all threats, these five simple steps make it more difficult for third parties to misappropriate your personal information.