Everyone Should Implement Digital Compartmentalization

Benefits our privacy, security, and lifestyle.

Adelene
CodeX
6 min readJul 9, 2021

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Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash

Outline

  • What is digital compartmentalization?
  • Why implement digital compartmentalization?
  • Basic implementation
  • Additional benefits of digital compartmentalization
  • Building on privacy and security process
  • Summary

What Is Digital Compartmentalization?

Our digital lives often need to be tied to our real identity. For example, fresh graduates who want to seek job opportunities need to be on platforms like LinkedIn. Our professional identity is also inescapable online with the ever-increasing digital communications required like Slack.
We connect our social lives online. Staying in touch with our friends and family by using instant messaging services like WhatsApp.
Our hobbies, interest, and entertainment are also connected online. We rely on services like YouTube, Netflix, and Spotify for our media consumption. Our browsing habits are tracked cross-site for companies to micro-target ads.

We spend a lot of time using online platforms that range from work-related use to personal use. These services can connect to a central identity and build upon your digital identity. Digital Compartmentalization aims to separate these connections into separate identities.

By separating your digital lives into various compartments like:

  • Professional, Real-life tied identity
  • Social Identity
  • Private Identity

We can thwart the centralization of our digital identity. We already perform basic compartmentalization in our daily lives. For instance, we have different behaviors in our jobs, personal and social lives.

Compartmentalization is widely regarded as the most powerful way to protect personal information.¹

Why Implement Digital Compartmentalization?

Improves Digital Security

Network systems can never be 100% secure. The only secure method is to disconnect from the internet entirely. Even big companies that have a lot of resources to defend themselves from cyber hacks are not immune to data breaches. Facebook’s data breach in April 2021 exposes 530 million user data².

We access many services online. The chances of one of those services suffering at least one data breach are high. Hence, the best practice to protect our privacy and security would be digital compartmentalization. By acknowledging that our system is not perfectly secure, we mitigate the risk accordingly.

If one of the online services you have an account with suffers a breach. It opens up vulnerabilities to your other accounts if you only use one email address. The email acts as a reference point to compromise your other accounts using the same email address. If you use different email addresses, it limits the scope of accounts they can compromise. For instance, let’s say a casual online platform where you sign up for an account suffers a breach, and you used an email for online sign-ups only. Your security on important accounts like banking is unlikely to be vulnerable.

We can customize compartmentalization according to our own needs. For example, creating an email that doesn’t sign up for online accounts and only acts as a recovery email for all other emails.

Privacy

Compartmentalization limits data access to companies and organizations that require data access to provide you their services.

We might not want certain information to be tied back to our real identity. Purely for our comfort and security sake. Online gaming players use pseudonyms all the time. Creating online pseudonyms is digital compartmentalization. For example, creating a pseudonym email and attach an identity to it, and assign a specific use case for it. This is how we can regain our privacy through digital compartmentalization.

Using pseudonyms allows people to share their opinions freely. Without fear of judgment in their real lives or endanger their careers for having an unconventional opinion. Reddit is a common platform where users utilize pseudonyms and throwaway accounts. In a subreddit called relationship_advice, pseudonyms are used to protect users’ offline identity while seeking advice online.

Browser compartmentalization is dedicating different browsers for various online activities. For example, Safari for work-related use, Firefox for personal use, Tor for private browsing. This can prevent cookies and trackers from linking all of your online activities.

“I already use incognito, what is there to worry about?”

Many ads networks use browser fingerprint to perform cross-site tracking. Browser fingerprints reveal whether you are using incognito mode, device operating system, and location. You can try a demo on fingerprint.js to look at it.

Photo by Franck on Unsplash

Basic Implementation of Digital Compartmentalization

Have a few basic categories for your online identity. For instance:

Personal Identity

  • Use an encrypted email provider like Proton Mail or Tutanota. If you are tech-savvy, host your emails on your servers.

Private Identity

  • Use privacy-respecting search engines like DuckDuckGo for disposable searches.
  • Tor is a good choice for anonymous browsing as well.
  • Use an email provider that does not require any personally identifiable information like a phone number to sign up. Alternatively, don’t sign up for services that require an email address.

Professional identity

  • VOIP for work phone numbers. Plus, the added benefit of turning off notifications and calls after work hours.
  • Email that is either is provided by your company or use a typical provider like Gmail. Note that work emails are never private because your company’s IT department can read them.

Further implementation includes having separate devices and phone numbers, and more.

Additional Benefits

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Fewer spam emails

By creating separate email addresses for different identities, we can better allocate our time to sort out emails. For example, I only frequently check my social and work emails. I did not sign up for many online services with those email accounts. This means less clutter to navigate through. Also, less chance of getting hooked by marketing and phishing emails.

Increased productivity by implementing device compartmentalization

It is easier to prevent procrastination when your work device stays as “for-work” only. Entertainment accounts should not be logged in on devices like work laptops. This builds a “wall of resistance” from procrastination. It is the real-life equivalent of locking away your phone in a cookie jar. Similar to surrounding yourself with a designated working environment, this can put your mind into “work mode”.

Work-life balance

When you only have your work accounts on your work devices. It is easy to turn it off and physically separate it from relaxing time. This prevents the urge of checking emails and notifications after work. Thus, achieving a better work-life balance. VOIP as a work phone number has the added benefit of disabling calls and notifications at a set schedule.

Freedom of Expression and Liberation

The internet is permanent, so is our digital footprint. Leave digital footprints in pseudonyms if you don’t want them to be tied to your real-life identity. Join online communities, post your thoughts and opinions without worry when you are using separate identities.

Building on Your Digital Security and Privacy

Password Security

Multiple accounts are only as strong as the walls it sets up. Use password managers to generate strong passwords. Use 2-factor authentication (2FA) if it is available. SMS 2-factor authentication is vulnerable to sim-swapping attacks, so use software authentication like Authenticator (iOS) or hardware authentication keys like YubiKey for 2FA.

Use and Support Open Sourced Software

Try to move away from proprietary software to open-source software. Try to move to privacy-respecting providers.
Start simple. Small steps at a time. Improving privacy and security is a process.

Summary

  • Digital compartmentalization is the act of separating your digital lives into different identities.
  • We are increasingly reliant on online services. Since no networks are 100% secure, compartmentalization reduces the security vulnerabilities of our accounts.
  • Compartmentalization limits companies on the data they can collect about you.
  • Pseudonym in online communities promotes discussion and free speech.
  • We can implement basic compartmentalization like separating email accounts for various use cases. There are a lot of other methods like using tor for anonymous browsing and device compartmentalization.
  • Digital compartmentalization can also have the added benefit of improving our lives. Less spam and phishing emails, improved productivity, better work-life balance, and freedom of expression.
  • Implement strong passwords by using password managers and always use 2-factor authentication when available.
  • Improving our digital security and privacy is a process.

Privacy and security for each person are unique. It depends on the convenience you are willing to give up in exchange for better privacy and security.

Footnotes:

¹: Privacy & Security | Why Compartmentalization is the Most Powerful Data Privacy Strategy by Anonyome Labs on April 22, 2020.

²: Technology | After Data Breach Exposes 530 Million, Facebook Says It Will Not Notify Users by Emma Bowman on April 9, 2021.

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Adelene
CodeX

Crypto enthusiast. Privacy and security advocate. Obsessed about productivity, self-development, and finance. Learn about crypto on comprehend.substack.com