Privacy, security and device addiction were the major themes around consumer technology in the last year and will carry us into 2019 and beyond. We saw some of the worst data breaches in history, an increase in attacks involving ransomware and other malware, and a real backlash from the scientific community about the unhealthy effects of too much screen time. So what can you do today to put technology in its place?

Regular safety check

Commit to a once-a-month safety check for your devices and online accounts. Your check should include making sure that the operating system for each device is up to date, along with apps on your phone and browsers on your computer. And if you are using an old product like Internet Explorer 10 or 11 that is no longer supported, upgrade to a modern version that will include regular updates. This is the best way to protect the pricey machines you use because the updates will include security-related features in response to known attacks or vulnerabilities.

Every three months, consider changing your critical passwords. Online banking comes to mind, but don’t forget about your email account. A hacked email account opens the door to all of the accounts associated with your email, which may include banking, insurance and other sensitive data. Remember, one password per account to avoid the domino effect of one hacked account used to gain access to others.

Email purge

The very best thing you can do to rein in the harmful effects of a cluttered inbox is to unsubscribe from newsletters, alerts and other communications. If fact, if you can get your email system whittled down to messages from only people you know, you will protect yourself from most malicious social engineering attempts — getting you to hand over your credit card number or other information by impersonating a familiar company or government organization. And the bonus for you is an inbox that is useful again.

While you can do this one-by-one in your email, you can also use a free service such as Unroll.me. Sign up with your email address and Unroll.me will show you a list of your subscriptions with three options next to each one: "Add to Rollup," "Unsubscribe" or "Keep in Inbox." There is no bulk delete feature, so you’ll have to click on Unsubscribe for each one, but it’s a fast process regardless of the length of your list.

Privacy check

Protecting your privacy online is close to impossible. My advice has always been if you don’t want the world to know, don’t post. Still, you should activate the highest privacy settings possible for your social media accounts, unless of course, you are promoting a business. For personal accounts, limit who can see your posts to friends, turn off location services unless they are necessary for an app like Google Maps (setting should be “only when I’m using the app”) and delete any personal information such as phone numbers and birth dates that are not required by the platform.

Limit your own screen time

I was alarmed to see in a recent Nielsen report that Americans spend more than 10 hours a day using some type of screen. Research has shown too much screen time can disturb your sleep, and we all know that devices interrupt healthy social interaction.

There are numerous ways to tackle this problem. You can set up no-phone zones in your home, which could include the bedroom and the dining room. You can set time limits on your phone for certain apps. For me, the most helpful “rule” is one-at-a time. That means if I’m watching a movie, I’m not checking my phone at the same time, or if I’m chatting with a friend, my phone has been put away.

It’s just too easy to be distracted by a device, so I also recommend turning off notifications on a phone. You can do the same thing on your computer, so those little popups won’t affect your workflow. You decide when you want to check your email or your Facebook account, rather than at the ding of a notification.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about and reviewing personal technology for eight years. She has designed and manages several international websites and runs the marketing for a global events company. Questions? Email her at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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