As you know, COVID-19 completely changed where and how we work. 

While there were some positives with moving to remote work, it also further eroded the definition between “work self” and “personal self.” For many, that meant our digital identities became intertwined 24/7 between work and play.

As we talked about on our recent podcast, sharing your personal data has become an unavoidable part of everyday life — from morning until night, you’re probably logging into work, school, social media, online shopping, cloud-based streaming services, and more. 

The thing is, your personal data belongs to you. But when you share it all the time, nonstop, you make it the new gold standard in our digital world. 

Is Remote Work the New Normal? 

In response to the pandemic, 25% of Americans are now working from home, and those stats are rising daily. (In 2017, by comparison, just 5.2% of Americans worked from home.) It turns out, we like this new set-up: a Gallup poll found that 3 out of 5 workers who went remote for the pandemic would prefer to remain remote, if possible. 

This site keeps tabs on all the big companies going remote permanently — including Twitter, Deloitte, JP Morgan, Verizon, State Farm, and Salesforce. 

And the list keeps growing — in February 2021, Spotify unveiled its “My Work Mode” – where employees will be able to work full time from home, from the office, or a combination of the two. In March 2021, oil giant BP told 25,000 office-based staff that they will be expected to work from home for two days a week as part of a “post-pandemic shift” to flexible working patterns.

4 Tips for Remote Work Privacy 

Knowing more about your personal data can help you make smarter decisions about privacy — especially if you’re one of the millions of Americans who has shifted to a remote-first work culture.

Here are some simple steps you can take to secure your online footprint as a remote employee: 

#1: Update your software regularly 

We know it’s essential to secure passwords — yet why do so many of us ignore those pesky security update pop-ups? We really shouldn’t do that! 

These updates often contain important fixes to known security flaws; ignoring the updates gives the bad guy an advantage to gain access to your data. They exist to protect your information, so when you get a notification to do a system update, it just means that the update is adding an important security patch — or a new “lock” to keep the bad guys out. 

When your device recommends a system update, don’t ignore it, because taking the time to perform security updates is a big part of keeping your digital identity squeaky clean and extra safe while.

#2 – Cover your webcam. 

While the Fourth Amendment protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, private employers actually are able to legally track their employees through surveillance software. 

That means there really aren’t legal protections for employees who are being monitored. State laws vary over whether companies must even tell workers whether they’re using tracking software. Some states do not require that workers be notified first. And it’s not like there’s a huge lobby in Congress that’s going to push through laws, either. Remote work surveillance has been called a land grab with very, very few safeguards in place.

In order to keep productivity high while working remotely, some companies are turning to tools like Sneek and Time Doctor. 

  • Time Doctor downloads videos of employees’ screens while they work and can also enable a computer’s webcam to take a picture of the employee every 10 minutes. 
  • Sneek, meanwhile, features a “wall of faces” for each office. The software stays on throughout the workday and features constantly-updating photos of workers taken through their laptop camera every one to five minutes.

Creepy, right? If you don’t like this kind of online privacy violation, simply cover your webcam and opt out. 

#3 – Start using 2FA (two-factor authentication)

If you want to add another layer of protection to your personal and company accounts, then you should think about utilizing two-factor authentication (2FA). Also known as multi-factor authentication, it’s  simply the process of using two different methods to prove your identity and isn’t entirely new — think of how you already use your debit card and enter a PIN. 

Turn on multi-factor authentication on as many accounts as possible, as 2FA can protect your various online accounts by making it more difficult for a cybercriminal to access your accounts. As you know if you’ve used it before, you enter your password and then wait for a one-time code to arrive via email or SMS, but it can come in other forms, like facial recognition, fingerprint, or the use of a token-based authentication app like Authy

This extra step can really help you to protect your online security while you work from home, because even if your passwords are hacked, it’s much harder for a bad guy to bypass the 2FA security.

#4 – Encrypt your data with a VPN 

A virtual private network (VPN) is essential to staying safe while working from home (and pretty much anywhere your online activities take you).

Even though you’re online for work, you’re connecting through your home network, which puts your personal stuff at risk. A breach to your company’s network is bad enough, but imagine having your own personal data stolen. Pretty scary. 

A VPN is like a secure tunnel that will encrypt your internet traffic, making what you do on that network private and anonymous. It essentially runs in the background as an extra layer of protection. Want to conceal your location? A VPN can help with that because all of your data is completely encrypted through the secure tunnel between your device and the VPN server. 

You can sign up here to try out Ghostery Premium, which intercepts and blocks trackers in your desktop applications and encrypts your connection with our VPN.  

Final Thoughts 

Remote work is here to stay. 

From morning til night, your online activities are being tracked more and more with this shift to a remote-first work environment for millions of Americans.  

Good internet hygiene as a remote worker involves asking yourself some security planning basics: what do you want to protect and what are the consequences of inaction? 

You should become more cognizant of what you’re downloading or accessing. Consider adding an anti-tracking tool to ensure that no personally identifiable information (PII) is sent to third parties while browsing. Remember, when your personal data is sold to the highest bidder, it also increases the chances of your PII falling into the wrong hands.

Another way you can stop that tracking is with the Ghostery browser extension — it blocks PII from ever being collected. Remember, if that data is never collected, it can never be bundled up and stored.