From social media to online shopping, our lives and the digital world have become more and more intertwined every day. And while the digital world has afforded us a whole new level of convenience and access to information, consumers must remember the best practices for protecting their data and ensuring it is used the right way.
By 2020, it was estimated that 1.7 MB of data was generated by every individual worldwide every second. This includes data about an individual’s activities, behaviors, and interests. Data comes in many forms, personal data, like social security and driver’s license numbers, and physical data, like health data. With all this digital activity and data flying around, it is easy for individuals to feel like they have lost control of their data.
Consumers are rightly becoming increasingly concerned with data privacy, with 86 percent of individuals saying that they care about their data privacy. That said, even the savviest digital users can have trouble managing their data.
Here are a few steps to better manage your personal information and make informed decisions about your data and its use:
Understand the Privacy/Convenience Tradeoff
Before you even use their services, many accounts ask for access to personal information, such as your geographic location, contacts list, and photo album. This personal information has tremendous value to businesses and allows some to offer you their services at little to no cost.
Make informed decisions about whether to share your data with certain businesses by considering the amount of personal information they are asking for and weighing it against the benefits you may receive in return. Be thoughtful about who gets that information and wary of apps or services that require access to information that is not needed or relevant for the services they are offering. Delete unused apps on your internet-connected devices and keep all apps secure by performing updates.
Manage Your Privacy
Once you have decided to use an app or set up a new account, check the privacy and security settings on web services and apps and set them to your comfort level for information sharing. Of course, each device, application, or browser you use will have different features to limit how and with whom you share information. With so many different settings to manage, staying on top can be very challenging. However, here are a few important ones to focus on first:
- Geolocation Data: Many apps will ask you to share your location data with them. Ensure that you are only sharing this data with apps you trust and that these apps are using your information responsibly. I tend to allow geolocation but only when using the app.
- Contacts Data: Email apps and video conferencing apps virtually all allow individuals to sync their existing contacts with their services automatically. Therefore, you must share this data only with trusted sources as not only is contact data yours, but it is your friend’s and family’s as well. I have made a practice of not doing this and have had no issues when video conferencing.
- Camera and Photo Data: Social apps universally ask for access to an individual’s photo library and related camera data -- which contains troves of private information. Be sure only the most trusted sources have access to this information and double-check settings in the app to filter which photo files apps have access to.
You can find more information for free through great resources like the National Cybersecurity Alliances' Manage Your Privacy Settings page.
Protect Your Data
Data privacy and data security go hand in hand. And fortunately, there are numerous easy-to-implement steps that everyday individuals can take to shore up their data and general cybersecurity:
- Long, Unique Passwords: Thanks to automation, once a bad actor has compromised one password, they can quickly bounce it around other sites to access other accounts. Having long, strong, and unique passwords for each account immediately thwarts these “easy hacking” efforts and makes it much harder for hackers to crack a password in the first place.
- Password Managers: Password managers have redefined cybersecurity by providing a consolidated and secure hub for individuals to store their information. Password managers can even generate unique, secure passwords for you and keep them automatically.
- Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): MFA has been found to block 99.9 percent of automated attacks when enabled and can ensure your data is protected, even in the event of a data breach. And the great news is, many organizations are increasingly offering it to individuals as an opt-in -- if not mandating it completely -- so it is easier than ever to enable.
76% of individuals said it’s too hard to understand what is going on and how their information is used. However, by keeping these few quick tips in mind, individuals can keep much better tabs on their data and create a safer digital environment for themselves.