January 28 marks the 4th annual Data Privacy Day which is recognized in over 40 countries. On this day each year since 2008, governments, corporations, schools, and individuals raise awareness about data privacy with the goal of helping us become better equipped to protect our personal information.
In a world where more and more information is created, stored and shared online, and everyone from individual citizens to government organizations is participating in it, maintaining online privacy is an important skill we all have to master.
But protecting your online privacy is not just about knowing how to protect it. It’s also about knowing what you are trying to protect. Anyone who uses and participates in the Internet has and shares information about themselves of all kinds. Some of it you post. Some of it you don’t.
First, there’s the information you actually type or submit as well as things you agree to such as:
- Name, password, address, email, phone numbers, credit card numbers, date of birth.
- News about your personal life or that of others.
- Photos of yourself, your kids, others.
- Privacy policies you agree to (by clicking on a button that says you’ve read and agreed to them).
But then there’s the personal data you’re not necessarily typing, but you are sharing such as:
- Web surfing habits. Websites install a tracking code called a ‘cookie’ on your system to track where you’ve been. This is helps them deliver content to you that they believe is most interesting to you, and improves your browsing experience in other ways.
- Physical location. Your phone can broadcast this. It tags photos you take with your phone camera marking where you were when you took it. It also shares your location with the phone apps you use – some of them are relevant to the app itself (such as Google maps, so it can give you directions to someplace) and some are not (such as Angry Birds – it’s may be sending physical info so the app can show you ads to places or products based on your location).
- Biometric data. This is done today through video games mainly, but in the future, other ways. (such as technologies that track your eye-movements to surf online). Your body frame and movements power many of the newer gaming devices, and that data is collected, stored, and shared with the game developers to improve the design.
While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, I think it’s important to be mindful of what personal info consists of, and why we need to be aware of what we’re sharing, where, when and with whom at all times.
Here are 4 things you can do immediately to protect your online privacy:
- Start with the basics.
Use privacy settings and reputable, up-to-date security software. Make sure the webpage you’re entering data on has an HTTPS at the beginning (not just HTTP). Use strong passwords and change them regularly. These steps will help you protect personal info from getting into the hands of those you don’t know who may have bad intentions with your data.
- Be a minimalist.
Enter the LEAST amount of information necessary to use an online service. Take note if any entry field is optional. If it is, don’t enter it. Don’t like your surfing history stored? Go into your web browser and clear that history. Like to keep your location private? Turn the location services off on your phone (for the camera, specific apps, or for all of it).
- Assume it’s public.
Don’t post it if you don’t want it shared widely. Even if you share news with a few people on email or behind privacy settings on a social network, never assume it can’t be shared outside that group.
- Know your rights.
Understand what your personal information is being used for, who it might be shared with, and how you can remove it if you wish. Read privacy policies carefully (yes, they’re long, but there are sections that speak specifically to how it’s used and how you can remove it). Good privacy policies will make these things very clear.
On this Data Privacy Day, there are numerous resources available online to help with you more detailed issues related to phones, social networks, etc. Some of them are below. Today and every day, make online privacy a priority. And if you’re in a position to do it, help someone else with theirs, too.
- Data Privacy Day resources from StaySafeOnline
- Your Family’s Privacy and the Xbox Kinect
- Be Privy to Online Privacy – eBook from Trend Micro Labs
- Online tracking and advertising: What the Do-Not-Track law means for your Kids
- My last year’s Wish List for Data Privacy Day
- Watch and share this great, short video on maintaining online data privacy. A winner from our 2011 What’s Your Story? campaign, called “The Wrong Hands”
Follow Lynette on twitter @lynettetowens