Time for a privacy diet to cut down on your daily digital footprint

We are tracked involuntarily when out and about when making credit and debit card transactions, Automatic Number Plate Recognition reading of our vehicles registration plates as we drive about, bus, tram and train journeys are all logged with chipped travel cards, CCTV and Biometric entry systems at airports check us for many details, internet access via our IP addresses being exposed and GPS* on our mobile phones or smart devices with location services of some sort.

We probably think one way or the other, whether we are happy and agree with being digitally followed about, or do not like it and totally disagree with the ongoing tracking of our lives.

For the most part, we cannot get away or avoid these every day exposed normal situations, the various systems are integrated as well as digitized so are connected in different ways, they are efficient for the most part, in turn, automatically save manual work interventions as well as the need for cash in most situations so reducing the time and overall overheads with logistics required for the fast-moving societies of today.

There is a flip-side to this tracking in that we can minimize our exposure with some simple steps, not those like the above that are logged without our consent, but with voluntary leaks of data and digital fingerprints, we create ourselves.

Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection on your computer, mobile phone, and flat paneled interactive displays like tablets and smart devices. This changes your Internet Protocol (IP) address to that of a different location – you can be logged in to the web at another city or even country but not physically be there. This prevents many possible exploits including phishing, web and mail spoofing, web traffic interception, packet-sniffing and your real location that can be traced from your ‘everyday’ IP address, the connections are end-to-end encrypted connections, this allows for heightened security with your web traffic, VPN software is a must-have accessory in our digital toolboxes.

Through the apps on our mobile devices, we leak a lot of personal data in the form of social media, every time you log in an entry into a database is made with your location, the data is from the devices local IP address as well as GPS* info, you can prevent this by using a VPN as above and also turning off location services for that app.

Try not to ‘check-in;’ to locations, your history is visible to yourself as well as the network operator, it is the same with uploading photographs in that the backgrounds can be analyzed with AI that has been machine-learned and the location exposed, just by the background images – it could be even easier than that as digital images often have hidden watermarks within them with information such as the date and time of image captured, GPS* location as well as the model of camera used, there are other parameters and if these are uploaded to a website, the EXIF metadata within provides all the details.

*GPS: If a smart device is used for a month and tracks your location, there is an 80% chance of the machine learning computer predicting the users’ home and work address. Devices including mobile phones, laptops, tablets, smartwatches, dashcams, SatNavs, and another portable smart tech.

Use cash for transactions where you can as every time you swipe your payment card or enter it into a payment machine a log is made that includes the location, amount with time and date, this can be ubiquitously computer linked to the CCTV system through ambient computing as a cross-reference point. You cannot get away from being geolocated to an ATM initially to withdraw the cash, some of these machines take a photo of you every time you use them with hidden cameras. Taking out cash be a pain but there will be less overall digital leaks paying this way.

It is best to tailor your needs accordingly as with some apps as well as general ways of doing things, you still need to function normally every day, there may be a need to leave a particular service on for that particular activity, like in the case of using Google Maps and you need to travel in your vehicle to different locations or leaving reviews if you are a Google Guide, for example, perhaps using augmented reality to collect digital tokens whilst outside in the local area.

We just cannot get away from data tracking but can reduce the exposure and not be so frivolous with it.