What is Online Identity?

Online Identity
A common misconception is that if you only use the Internet for certain activities and don’t have social media accounts (or any accounts, for that matter) set up, you don’t really have an online identity. Well, the reality is completely different. As long as you use the web, you have an online identity - whether you’re aware of it or not.

What Is Online Identity?

An online identity can be anything from a social media profile or a forum account to a video game character or even a shopping cart. Basically, it can either be a social identity associated with an online community, or just a simple account or data that’s associated with online services.

If you’re looking for a more accurate and specific definition of what an online identity is, then here’s one: Any bit of information (no matter how small) that can be found about an individual on the Internet.

That means that an Internet identity can even be comprised of things like:

  • Login credentials
  • Online transactions
  • Online search activities
  • Medical history
  • Date of birth
  • Browsing history

Is Protecting Your Online Identity Important?

Definitely. In fact, far too few people realize just how necessary it is to take your Internet identity seriously if you want to protect your privacy on the web.

All it takes is being a bit sloppy, and your personal information (name, physical address, IP address, phone number, and much more) will end up in the wrong hands. And yes, there are plenty of people, businesses, and organizations who are interested in your online identity.

Who Is After Your Online Identity?

Some of the entities that are interested in your private data, identity, web traffic, Internet usage habits, and other sensitive information include:

  • Your ISP
  • Hackers
  • Advertisers
  • Government surveillance agencies
  • The authorities
  • Search engines and social media platforms
  • Any other websites you visit
  • All sorts of businesses

True, some of those entities are legally allowed to collect your data. In certain cases, you yourself give your consent for that to happen. However, it’s still a grey area.

Sure, you might consent to sharing some personal information with Facebook, for instance, and might not even mind that they share it with advertisers, but doesn’t getting bombarded with “personalized” ads end up feeling too annoying, intrusive, and a little creepy? Plus, you do have the right to protect your privacy and online identity, after all.

How Is Your Personal Information and Data Used?

People/Organizations interested in your private information and data might have different intentions, and none of those are really in your favor. Sadly, with how the Internet works overall, there isn’t really a clear concept of privacy and privacy rights.

“What do you mean? What about Privacy Policies and privacy laws?”

We’re not saying those are not a thing or that they don’t accomplish anything, but think of it this way: Websites can still see what you are searching for on other websites, advertisers can see how you respond to different kind of ads, and they can even build profiles based on your online habits (yes, it’s legal), and ISPs can pretty much see everything you do online.

Protect Identity

True, all those actions have a purpose (whether it’s offering you convenient services or trying to sell you a product you might really need), but it’s harder and harder not to feel like your privacy rights are taking a back seat to all of it, isn’t it?

Just think about what various entities like to do with your personal data, and how they collect it:

  • ISPs can actually sell your data to advertisers for a profit (at least in the US), and must share it with government surveillance agencies or the authorities. Even if we presume they don’t do that, they can still snoop on your online identity and habits, and throttle your bandwidth whenever they want to “convince” you to pay for a pricier subscription or data plan.
  • Governments and surveillance agencies like to monitor everything you do online. They claim they do it to combat terrorism and crimes, but the way they go about doing it is pretty illegal itself. Edward Snowden already showed us that government agencies spy on their own citizens and break numerous laws intended to protect the privacy of individuals.
  • Search engines put together lists containing tons of data about your online identity, including things like your gender, geo-location, phone number(s), political and religious ideologies, financial and health issues, etc. What’s more, search engines also have no problem sharing that kind of info with advertisers for a profit.
  • Advertisers love to know everything about your online activities, web traffic, shopping habits, and your personal preferences so they can send targeted ads your way. The word “privacy” doesn’t really seem to exist in their dictionary.
  • Websites use cookies to track your activities and online traffic to give you a more “personalized experience.” While that can be convenient, it also means they’ll be logging a lot of data linked to your online identity – information that can end up in the hands of advertisers or even cybercriminals in the case of data leaks or privacy breaches.
  • Speaking of hackers, they’re crazy about your private data because it can help them access your bank accounts, credit cards, social profiles, and virtually everything you have. They can even get loans in your name and ruin your credit rating as well as your life.

Considering all of that, there are more than enough reasons to learn how to protect your online persona.

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How to Protect Your Online Identity?

While the situation might seem bleak, it is not that hard to protect your private data and online identity. All you have to do is follow these tips, and you’ll be able to enjoy an extra layer of privacy and security:

1. Use Strong Passwords

Use numbers, letters, and special characters to make the passwords strong and difficult to guess. Do not use obvious things like your birth date or dog’s name as passwords.

Obviously, do not share your password with anyone else, and do not write down your passwords in plain text. You can use encrypted software like KeepPass, LastPass, and 1Password to save multiple passwords.

For more advice, check out our guide on how to create a strong password.

2. Create a Secondary Email Address

It’s better to not use your mail email address for things like newsgroups, video games, and forums. You should only share your primary email address with people you know personally.

Ideally, you should aim to use an anonymity-oriented or encrypted email service like ProtonMail or Tutanota. If you’re stuck with Gmail or just prefer using it, make sure you use this extension to encrypt your emails and attachments.

3. Don’t Engage with Spam Mail

If you get any spam emails, don’t respond to them, click on any links, or open/download any attachments. You might be redirected to a phishing website or be exposed to malware infections.

Also, don’t click on any unsubscribe button because, this way, the spammers will know it’s a valid email address. Just put those emails in the spam folder or delete them.

We actually have an article where you can learn more about spam and how to stop it.

4. Use VPN (Virtual Private Network) Services

A VPN is a service you can use to better protect your online identity by securing your personal data on the Internet, safeguarding your online traffic, and keeping online surveillance at bay. All of that is achieved by using strong encryption that prevents anyone (government surveillance agencies, ISPs, and even cybercriminals) from seeing what you do online. Yes, even on unsecured WiFi networks.

Hide Identity

On top of that, a VPN can also mask your real IP address, effectively ensuring that no website can track your real geo-location – not to mention nobody will be able to log any valuable data that’s associated with your IP address.

Regarding how to get a VPN, they are offered by third-party providers which usually have cross-platform compatible VPN apps.

Need a Reliable VPN? CactusVPN Has Got You Covered!

Our VPN service is more than capable of protecting your online identity. We use industry-leading AES encryption to secure all your data and Internet traffic to keep your browsing experience the way it should be – safe and private.

What’s more, our high-speed servers use shared IP technology, meaning there’s no chance our servers’ IP addresses can be traced back to you.

And don’t worry – we don’t log any of your data. We have a strict no-log policy in place. Oh, CactusVPN also comes equipped with a Killswitch to make sure your online identity is never exposed – not even when you encounter connectivity issues.

Still not convinced? No problem – we offer a free 24-hour trial, so you can check out if our VPN service can meet all your needs before picking a subscription. And even after you choose a plan, you’ll still be covered by our 30-day money-back guarantee.

5. Use Reliable Antivirus Software

Another good way to protect your Internet identity against online threats is to use strong antivirus/antimalware software. Remember to also keep it up-to-date, and to use it alongside a VPN.

We personally recommend Malwarebytes – especially since it has a decent trial version that can run scans on your device.

6. Only Buy From Reputable Websites

Lesser-known websites aren’t always a risk, but there could be a chance you’d be engaging with a phishing or malware-infected website, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. So, always do some initial research, check the reviews, and make sure the website domain starts with “https” (that means it uses encryption) instead of “http.”

Shopping

Also, make sure you read the Privacy Policy of those websites and companies to see what kind of data they will be collecting from you, and what they will use it for. If it says they will share it with “third parties,” it’s better to try other options since that can mean your data will be shared with advertisers.

7. Don’t Share Too Much Info on Social Media

While social media websites can be fun and informative, you should be careful when using them. Cybercriminals can learn a lot from what you post, and they can use that information to stalk you, rob your house, and even set up impersonating accounts.

You should always check your privacy settings on your profiles to make sure only people you know can see the personal things you might post or share. Though, we’d recommend not posting any personal information on social media altogether.

8. Use Encrypted Messaging

Whether you’re having a private conversation with your friends or lover, sending sensitive business data to clients, or even talking with a whistleblower, the last thing you want is someone being able to snoop on the contents of your messages.

Sadly, that can happen if you use messaging applications that don’t use end-to-end encryption, which is why we highly recommend using Signal – a free, easy-to-use, fully encrypted messaging app.

What to Do if Your Online Identity Is Stolen

Even though your online identity should be safe if you follow the steps outlined above, there’s always that slight chance that something might go wrong, so it’s always better to be prepared and know what to do.

First, contact the local authorities ASAP. If you have evidence that someone is using your personal information, don’t hesitate to use it. Also, get in touch with your financial institution to make sure your bank account and credit cards are secure.

Afterwards, change all your accounts’ passwords, and contact the websites associated with the accounts that have been compromised.

Identity theft should never be taken lightly. It can lead to financial loss, credit loss, emotional trauma, and even having your personal information sold to scammers on the deep web.

Conclusion

All in all, your online identity is more than just a pseudonym or alter ego you use on the Internet – it’s a real collection of your personal information, and not taking its security seriously can have disastrous consequences.

So, make sure you follow the advice we outlined in this article, and that you use a VPN service to protect your online identity anywhere on the web.

Want to protect your online identity?

Protect online privacy, secure your connection and access blocked websites

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