The paranoid's survival guide, part 2: Protect your privacy on social, mobile and more

Here's how to minimize your personal data footprint when messaging, on social media, and using mobile apps

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Manage your messaging

Secure your email

Be sure to enable HTTPS encryption for all email communications in transit. As for email data in your inbox, a hosted private email service that you pay for, from a company such as Rackspace, offers more privacy than does a free, public Webmail service such as Gmail, while hosting your own email server on premises offers the most privacy of all.

There are many exploits out there for compromising Webmail services, says Hansen. What's more, the content of email hosted on free Webmail services may be used to allow advertisers to send interest-based advertising. Also, government agencies can access your data on Webmail or hosted email systems at any time by simply presenting a subpoena -- and the provider may be prohibited from telling you about it. With an internally hosted server, a search warrant would be required, and you would be aware of the action.

Use a privacy-oriented email service

Popular Webmail services such as Gmail and Yahoo Mail offer a free account in exchange for collecting data about you and analyzing your email activity for marketing purposes. If that bothers you, consider a free service not supported by advertising, such as Zoho Mail, or use an email account provided by your ISP.

For even greater protection, use a secure email service that's dedicated to protecting your privacy, such as Riseup or MyKolab. Services like MyKolab, which hosts your email data offshore and out of reach of the Patriot Act, may make your data less prone to U.S. government snooping.

Use a self-destructing text/chat service

Instant messaging/texting services that encrypt your communications and don't retain your chat history have gained critical mass among young people, and for good reason, says Polonestky. "No one records [verbal] chit-chat, but when I have that conversation online it's somehow part of the national archives. It shouldn't be. It's the kind of communication that should work as a shout out and be fleeting," he says.

Polonestky uses Frankly Chat, which he calls "Snapchat for adults," but says other popular services including Snapchat itself or Whisper also work well. Whisper is an anonymous social network, and Snapchat allows users to set time limits for how long their posts will appear.

Oppenheim recommends Silent Text and TextSecure. The downside of these services is that the person you want to message must have the same app installed and running before you can connect. So, depending on which service your friends use, you might need to keep more than one app running.

Mobile protections

Limit tracking on your mobile phone

Mobile phones offer more limited options for minimizing your online footprint, says Justin Brookman, director, consumer privacy at the Center for Democracy & Technology. Your carrier knows your location, the calls you make, the sites you visit, the texts you've sent and received and the apps you use. Unless you turn off your phone, your carrier will always know where you are, he says. And while you can't opt of out all data collection, your carrier may offer options that let you limit how it uses and shares that data.

Password-protect your smartphones, tablets and other personal computing devices, and configure the "find me" feature or app for mobile devices. "The first thing to do is to make sure that if you ever lost the device you can get it back and lock it down. This is half security, half privacy," says Chris Babel, CEO at security vendor Truste.

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