December 13, 2022

Privacy Tip of the Week: Have a Safe Holiday Season Online

Posted by Rhiannon

For the last few years, the holidays have looked a little different. The effects of COVID-19 have prevented family get-togethers, restricted travel, changed our shopping habits, and more. While some normalcy has returned this year, there are those still wary of the effects of the illness, and those who forged new traditions during the height of the pandemic that they intend to keep going this year. Things like shopping and holiday get-togethers are taking a more online approach which, for many people, feel safer and are simply more convenient. However, online alternatives to in-person gatherings come with their own risks. Here’s how you can have a safe holiday season online (and off) when:

  • Shopping online
  • Hosting a virtual get-together
  • Ordering food digitally
  • Streaming content

Staying Safe While Shopping Online

When November and December roll around, holiday shopping kicks into high gear. In past years, shoppers have crammed stores and malls to bursting, in search of the perfect gifts and discounts. However, recently, many are forgoing or limiting the amount of in-person shopping they are doing. Prices are high, lines are long, and many local stores don’t have the same inventory they do online. All of this can make for a hectic experience. Instead, there are those are completing much, if not all, of their holiday shopping online.

However, before loading up your online cart, make sure you know some of the best ways of staying safe while shopping online. 

First, don’t click on pop-ups or ads, especially if they’re offering deals that seem too good to be true. These ads probably contain malware or even more malicious viruses. You can avoid them by installing an adblocker. 

Second, don’t accept a website’s cookies if possible. Many of these cookies can track your activities even after you leave the website they belong to. They send you personalized ads, and may even sell your information to third party organizations. You can also use a safe VPN to stop tracking and prevent cookies from being saved in your browser.

Finally, only shop with reputable and reliable sellers. This can prevent you from falling victim to the scams so prevalent around the holiday season.

Having a Safe Holiday Season Online While Hosting a Virtual Get-Together

Virtual holiday parties were all the rage at the height of the pandemic. After all, they were the only option for many people. However, their popularity has not entirely disappeared even though in-person events are possible once again. The prospect of travelling to be with loved ones who live far away is daunting, when airline tickets and tanks of gas cost an arm and a leg. As a result, virtual get-togethers are still an appealing option, with help from video conferencing platforms like Zoom.

Before you set up your online party, however, make sure it’s safe one.

First, create closed rooms for your invitees on whatever platform you intend to use. This will prevent strangers from hijacking your event (which is called “zoombombing”). In addition, if the platform you use allows you to set a password to enter the call, set one, which will further prevent any unwanted visitors.

Second, choose a platform that offers end-to-end encryption. This will prevent snoops from outside the call looking in, so everyone involved has a safe holiday season this year. 

Ordering Food Digitally

Food is a huge part of many people’s holiday celebrations. However, as nice as it is to gather around the table and eat a homecooked meal, the process of preparing that meal is often stressful. It takes hours of work, many trips to the grocery store, and confidence in yourself.

You can help ease some of that stress by ordering your groceries online for delivery or pick-up, something now offered by many grocery stores. If cooking isn’t your forte, you can also order takeout through a variety of food-delivery apps.

Unfortunately, although ordering food online is convenient, it can have some repercussions for your privacy. Some apps may collect personal information and other forms of data, like your contacts, location, information, and more. Once they have it, they can sell it. Protect your data by looking at the settings and permissions of each app you use. Restrict the information they can access on your phone and don’t give away more information than is necessary for the service to work.

Streaming Content

Many people love curling up under a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate while watching a holiday movie. Streaming services offer plenty of the classics, along with some of their own new content. However, streaming safely is an important part of having a safe and enjoyable holiday season.

One of the most important ways of streaming safely is done by using legitimate streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and more. Although these options are more expensive compared to free streaming or video downloading sites, they’re also safer and won’t fill your devices with viruses and malware. Unfortunately, some streaming services don’t offer the content you want in your region, but may offer it in another region. To get around this, use a VPN. VPNs can change your apparent online location so you can unlock content from anywhere in the world. In addition, a VPN will hide your activity from your internet service provider, so your ISP can’t slow your speeds when they see you doing high bandwidth activities, like streaming, which is called bandwidth throttling.

The holiday season has changed for many, with new traditions being blended with old. Technology now plays a more important part than ever, affecting how we shop, eat, watch, get together, and more. Make sure you’re using it safely this holiday season and for all to come by following our tips. Happy holidays!

Posted by Rhiannon

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