Online Privacy 101

Have you ever searched online for an item you were thinking of purchasing only to be bombarded by ads for that same item the next time you went online? Should you cover your computer’s webcam? How do you protect those sensitive files saved on your computer?

In this blog, we answer some basic privacy questions to help protect your privacy online.

Question 1: Should You Cover Your Computer’s Webcam?

In 2016, Facebook founder – Mark Zuckerberg’s made an online post that went viral. In the post, people saw that he had covered the built-in webcam on his computer as well as the microphone jack with tape. The former FBI director James Comey, later revealed that he also did the same.

Mark Zuckerberg celebrates 500 million monthly active users on Instagram.
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook

With these two people having major public profiles, it’s no wonder they are taking this extra precaution. Should you do the same as well?

As it turns out, hackers can gain access to your computer’s built-in camera using simple hacking tools, but only if you are extremely careless. For example, opening suspicious files you have downloaded onto your computer is an easy way to give hackers access to your webcam. This allows hackers to install the necessary malware to give them access.

Since malware is the root of this problem, one way you can protect yourself is to make sure you have an antivirus program installed on your computer, like McAfee, to warn you before you click on a suspicious link without thinking.

If you’re still unsure, you can definitely use tape to cover your microphone and webcam so no amount of malware can get past them. To avoid damaging the lens of your webcam, consider purchasing a specially-designed webcam cover or masking tape

Question 2: What Are Website Cookies And How Do They Affect Your Privacy?

While online, you might have seen a message saying “This website uses cookies to enhance your browsing experience” or other variations of the notice linking you to the website’s privacy policy.

FixMeStick "Cookie" Banner
This is the message that shows up on our website. You can read more about it in our Privacy Policy here.

In layman’s terms, cookies are files that are automatically created every time you visit a website. They stay on your computer and record and store information on your interactions with the website. This information can then be used by the website to track things like what items you put in your shopping cart.

There is no way to get around accepting cookies. In fact, your antivirus software will not get rid of cookies for you. But there are some things you can do to keep your browsing experience more private.

The easiest way to avoid cookies when you are browsing is to use a private browser. On Google Chrome, this is known as “Incognito Mode”. You can open a new incognito window by pressing the Control, Shift, and N keys on your keyboard at the same time. If you are using Microsoft Edge, this is called InPrivate mode. You can open an InPrivate window by pressing the Control, Shift, and P keys on your keyboard at the same time.

The second thing you can do is to clear any stored cookies. On most browsers, you can go to the Privacy & Security section to see the list of cookies that are stored on your computer and then delete them.

Another thing you can do is to block cookies from getting onto your computer. Depending on which browser you use, you can find this in the Settings section, and then click on Cookies to enable or disable them.

Question 3.  Should You Save Your Password On Web Browsers Like Google Chrome?

Most browsers have built-in password managers. If you use Chrome, you might have seen a popup asking you “Do you want Google Chrome to save your password for this site”? Should you click ‘save’’? And what happens after that?

Image showing Google asking "Do you want Google Chrome to save your password for this site?"


Every time you save a password on a browser, it can be synced to your online account or stored in a cookie (read more about cookies in question 2 above). And since cookies are stored on your computer’s hard drive, that means your passwords might be stored there as well.

These built-in password managers are convenient, but can also be risky if you have a weak password to login to your computer or if someone hacks into your computer. Additionally, if your computer or hard drive gets stolen, or if someone hacks into your main password manager account, like your Google account, all your passwords can fall into the wrong hands.

If you would like to keep using these password managers, be sure to set up extra secure passwords on the main account where your other passwords are saved to. If you are not sure how to do this, check out our blog post on some of the worst passwords ever and for tips on how to create a strong password.

Another way to protect yourself is to set up 2-Factor Authentication on your accounts. Most 2-Factor Authentication methods require you to provide your phone number, which can then receive a code that you must type onto the computer to log in to your account for added security.

Question 4. How to Secure Sensitive Documents on Your Computer?

Many people are going paperless to save the environment and to save space in the house. But what should you do with sensitive documents, like your tax returns and bank statements that are stored on your computer?

Image of sensitive documents.

Obviously, the best way to protect these files is to use a strong login password to your computer, which is like locking up your documents in a safe. However, just because you put a lock on doesn’t mean your documents are safe. Someone can still steal your computer’s hard drive, the same way a safe can be broken into by damaging the lock or drilling a hole in it.

Encrypting your hard drive will secure sensitive documents so that even if someone does take it, they will not be able to view these documents.

On Mac computers, you can encrypt your files using FileVault, which is found under System Preferences > Security & Privacy > FileVault. On Windows computers, you can use the BitLocker feature found in the Control Panel > System and Security > Manage BitLocker.

If you are uploading your documents onto a cloud for easy access, you can encrypt them as well. Cloud services like Dropbox, iCloud, and SOS Online Backup all encrypt your files so you can consider transferring sensitive files there if you think your hard drive isn’t secure enough.

What are some ways you protect your privacy online? Leave a comment below.

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