How to Take Back Control of Your Data This Data Privacy Week

Are you airing your dirty laundry?

Adapted from The National Cybersecurity Alliance, January 2022

From social media to online shopping, our lives and the digital world become more intertwined every day. The digital world affords us a new level of convenience and access to information, but there may be a hidden cost to your privacy associated with these conveniences. Consumers must take action to protect their data and ensure that it is used in the right way.

In 2020, every individual worldwide generated an estimated 1.7 MB of data each second. This includes data about an individual’s activities, behaviors, and interests as well as personal data (e.g., social security numbers, driver’s license numbers) and physical or health data. Consumers are growing more 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

Many accounts ask for access to personal information, such as your geographic location, contacts list, and photo album, before you even use their services. 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 specific businesses. Consider the amount of personal information they’re requesting and weigh 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 isn’t relevant to the services they offer. Delete unused apps on your internet-connected devices and perform updates to keep all apps secure.

Manage your privacy

Once you decide to use an app or set up a new account, check its privacy and security settings and set them to your comfort level for information sharing. Each device, application, or browser will have different features to limit how and with whom you share information.

It can be challenging to keep track of so many different settings. Below, please find a list of some of the most important settings to consider:

  • Geolocation Data: To provide more relevant results, many apps will ask for you to share your location data with them. Make sure that you are only sharing your data with apps you trust and that these apps are using your data responsibly.
  • Contacts Data: Virtually all email and video conferencing apps allow individuals to automatically sync their existing contacts with their services. It is important that you share this data only with trusted sources. Contact data doesn’t just belong to you. It’s also information about your friends, family, and colleagues.
  • Camera and Photo Data: Social apps universally ask for access to your photo library and related camera data. This contains troves of private information. Be sure only the most trusted sources have access to this information. Double-check settings in the app to filter which photo files are accessible.
  • Find more information in the great (and free!) resources offered by organizations such as the National Cybersecurity Alliance: Manage Your Privacy Settings page .

Protect your data

Data privacy and data security go hand in hand. Fortunately, there are several easy steps that everyone can take to shore up their data and general cybersecurity:

  • Use Long, Unique Passwords: Thanks to automation, once a bad actor has compromised one password, they can easily 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 to store information. Password managers can even generate unique, secure passwords for you and store them automatically.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): MFA can block 99.9 percent of automated attacks when enabled and can ensure your data is protected, even in the event of a data breach. The great news is that 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. Seventy-six percent of individuals said it’s too hard to understand what’s going on and how their information is used. Use the tips above to keep better tabs on your data and create a safer digital environment!