Protect your privacy as you head back to school

Android figures
(Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

Heading off to school is a big change for most students. A parent isn't in charge anymore, leaving us to control the things that happen in our lives. I remember heading out on my own and all the responsibilities that go with it. One of those responsibilities is managing your online life.

Now that you're the person who is to blame when things aren't working out, it's important to make sure you know how to be safe and a little more private when it comes to your online presence.

Here are a few basics to steer you in the right direction so you can be yourself without worrying too much.

Updates are super important

Nothing Phone software update

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Every device you own that can connect to the internet needs to be kept up to date.

That means saying yes to those pesky update notifications that reboot your phone, letting your laptop get those important updates from Microsoft or Apple, and even devices you never think about, like headphones or the apps you use need to be regularly updated.

Most of the time, this isn't going to be a big hassle, and your stuff will either update itself when you turn it off or let you know there's an update waiting for you. It's important because once a flaw in any software is discovered, some people will try to use it so they can worm their way into your life somehow.

Don't make it easier for them than it should be. Of course, things get a little tricky when your phone stops getting updates altogether.

Use security software

Trend Micro promo image

(Image credit: Trend Micro)

You probably have a phone or tablet that uses Android or Apple's iOS, and it has built-in tools that check to make sure other software isn't doing anything fishy. Your laptop needs the same.

If you use a Chromebook you're covered whether you like it or not, but chances are you aren't going to depend on a Chromebook for all of your needs. The good news is that both Windows and Mac laptops have a plethora of tools available — some are built-in, like Windows Defender — to regularly scan for shady software. Use one.

Android & Chill

Android Central mascot

(Image credit: Future)

One of the web's longest-running tech columns, Android & Chill is your Saturday discussion of Android, Google, and all things tech.

Installing it isn't good enough, you have to let it do its thing, too. Even something like Microsoft's Windows Defender needs to regularly scan the files and folders on your device. Either set things up so this is automatically done (the best option) or do it manually at least once per week.

I'm not going to suggest which software you should use because they all do the same job — even the free options are pretty good. Get into the habit of using one.

Back up everything

Google One on an Android phone

(Image credit: Android Central)

Eventually your "stuff" will either break or get lost. Hopefully, you get your money's worth before it happens, but either way, once it's gone everything that was stored on it is gone, too, unless you backed it up somewhere.

That could mean you use the tools on your phone like Google Photos or iCloud, or another service like Dropbox. Your phone will back up some things to your account like apps or your contacts, but user data usually isn't.

Whether you want to transfer everything to an external storage drive, use a paid service like Google One, or a free service like Dropbox or the Drive storage you get with your Google account, make sure you take the time to copy anything that you can't afford to lose on a regular basis.

The internet is forever

How To Google Photos Locked Folder

(Image credit: Android Central)

Anything you post to social media is going to live on the internet forever. Everything. Forever. You can go back and delete something, but there are still plenty of ways to find it.

The same goes for everything you put online or someone else put online. Keep this in mind when you want to post a funny picture of your best friend passed out drunk or sharing huge gravity bong hits. The same goes for information you might wish you hadn't shared. Once it's there, it's there.

Almost every company with a user-driven internet experience will help you if someone posts something harassing about you, and they can scrub things a bit better than you can. If you find photos or information that was shared without your consent be sure to contact the place where it was posted for help. Also, don't be that person who posts anything about anyone without their consent.

Watch your money

A Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 with US dollars

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Check your bank and credit card statements every day.

It only takes a minute through an app on your phone and it lets you know right away if a transaction you don't recognize appears. And there are plenty of people who will go to great lengths to try to part you from your money.

Passwords are important

1Password X on Pixelbook

(Image credit: Android Central)

You already know what you need to do when it comes to passwords for all the things you use. Now is a good time to change them and correct any bad practices.

It's easier than you might think. Use a password manager, use strong passwords, never share your password for anything with anyone, and never use the same password twice. Also, use two-factor authentication on every single account that supports it. 

Fixing the aftermath when someone gets your password is a lot more tedious than following the right practices to begin with.

Protect your stuff

The Samsung Galaxy A54 5G sitting on a stair rail showing its lockscreen

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

I hate typing in my passwords as much as you do. I would hate someone getting into my phone or laptop even more.

Use your device's security settings so only you can unlock them — that's what they are for. You might not have anything to hide, but that's not the point — with your phone in my hands, I can do a lot of things as if I were you. 

Don't leave your stuff lying around, either. You probably trust the people you spend time with, and you should be able to. But an unattended phone or laptop is a prime target for someone with sticky fingers.

Think before you click

Dissection of a spam email

(Image credit: Future)

A great way to steal someone's information is by tricking them into giving it up through a fake web page. Phishing is big money.

Never click a link that you didn't ask for or one that comes from someone you don't know. This goes for email, texts, social media, and everywhere else. If you see links on a webpage, think about how much you trust the person or company that put them there.

Your browser and messaging app will protect you a little bit, but phishing scams will always find a way. It's up to you to not fall for them.

Smart internet shopping

Shopping with Alexa

(Image credit: Android Central)

It's easy to shop online, and you can usually find anything you need and then get it shipped to your door. Just be smart about it. Never buy something from a website that seems shady, and never do it from a public computer. 

You should go one step further and use a VPN when you're not on a private connection like the Wi-Fi where you live or your phone's data connection. there are people who make a living by trying to sniff things out of the air they can use at Amazon under your name. Don't make it easy for them.

Also, remember to never use a public computer for anything you need to log into. Use your phone, where there's not much chance that someone is spying on what you are typing.

Encryption is your friend

Signal, WhatsApp, and Telegram logos on Android phones

(Image credit: Android Central)

The governments of the world hate encryption for the same reasons we should love it — it keeps things private.

You probably aren't doing anything illegal that you need to hide, but that's not the point. You would never want me to walk into your house and kick back on the couch without an invite. You also shouldn't want me to know anything you say to your friends or rifle through your phone, either.

Best of all, it's easy. There are plenty of messaging apps that are encrypted, and they all are packed with features. Your web browser probably warns you if your connection to a website isn't encrypted, and it's almost impossible to find a way to decrypt your phone because it's encrypted by default.

Encryption is your best tool when it comes to data privacy.

None of this is hard even if it seems really boring. And it actually will help keep you from being "hacked" because you made it easy.

You're in charge now, and it's all your responsibility.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.