New Year’s Resolutions: Exercise, Eat Healthy… Protect Your Data
We’ve all been there. Head down, staring at our smart phone waiting for a new app to install. You quickly swipe through the terms and conditions before hitting “accept,” excited and ready to use the latest technology.
Today’s applications offer incredible convenience and benefits to the people, businesses and governments who use them. But you very likely are giving up something in return—information about you.
Your personal information is like money—it has value. By knowing your views and interests, your spending habits, and places you go, companies can provide you with a more personalized online experience and free apps.
In addition to its intrinsic value in today’s information economy, your data is also vulnerable to hackers and other bad actors. When they get their hands on our information, the result often is lost funds, damaged credit or even months spent repairing your financial and personal reputation. Worse, bad actors sometimes will publicly share sensitive, sometimes embarrassing personal information to humiliate or intimidate.
With the recent start of the new year many of us made New Year’s resolutions. January is also when the National Cyber Security Alliance recognizes Data Privacy Week to empower people to act.
So why not resolve now to better protect your personal information? It doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice convenience or new technology. It means ensuring that your information is used only in ways you feel comfortable.
Here are four simple things you can do today to better control how your personal information is collected, used and shared online:
- Get back to the basics. Here, I’m talking about practicing good hygiene. Just like washing your hands or brushing your teeth, you can create daily data privacy habits to prevent larger issues. Habits like using multi-factor authentication and strong passwords, installing software updates right away and properly configuring privacy settings are a great start. These offer the first and best line of defense for protecting your personal information.
- Update your smart phone. Be sure to install and use the most current operating system, apps and web browsers to help defend your phone and its contents against malware and other online threats. Yes, this too is hygiene but it’s important enough to call out separately.
- Ask why. Your information, and your dignity, have value. Before completing a form or submitting any personal information online, ask yourself, “why do they need this information?” Then you decide how much information you want to share. For example, an online form that collects personal information might not require you to fill out every single data field. Use that power and leave some fields blank. Also, pay attention to the source of the request to avoid phishing attempts.
- Delete when done. Deleting an unused app or account with an online platform is a good security practice. Why? Because when you download an app or join a social media platform, it usually asks for permission to access and collect information from other areas of your life, like your photos, contacts and location. Often, you can obtain a copy of your information before deleting the app or account. And did I mention that you should keep your favorite apps updated with the latest version so they remain secure?
When the infamous Willie Sutton was asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, he replied, “because that’s where the money is.” Our personal data is a new form of currency and there are new criminals who see its value. Good data privacy habits can help you control who can access your personal information. As you consider resolutions around creating good habits and dropping bad ones, don’t forget one of the biggest parts of your life—your online actions.
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