By Amy Miller, AFC®
Data Privacy Day began in 2008 and is observed in January to create awareness around the importance of safeguarding and managing personal data and privacy online.
What is Data Privacy?
Data privacy is an individual’s ability to determine when, how, and to what extent his or her personal information is shared with others online. This information includes their name, location, contact information, and online behavior.
With internet usage constantly increasing, so has the importance of data privacy. Most of us use websites, programs, apps, and social media platforms regularly. Often, these programs and platforms will collect and store personal data about their users to provide improved, customized services. However, some may collect more information than users would like, leaving them with less privacy online than they may have intended. Further, some apps and platforms may not have adequate safeguards in place for the data they are collecting, which could lead to a breach that would compromise the privacy of all users.
Why is Data Privacy Important?
Personal data found online can be misused in several ways if individuals are not able to control what information is kept private. In the wrong hands, personal information can be used for fraudulent activities that can be harmful and even costly.
Many consider privacy a human right, like the right to free speech, and although there are many laws in existence that are intended to protect those rights, the U.S. allows businesses to collect personal information without expressed consent. Many of the existing laws are considered “harm-prevention-based” and are an assortment of privacy protections seeking to prevent harm in the financial, medical, and education sectors. There are changes coming that will shift regulations to a more “rights-based” approach, similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which states that individuals “own” their personal information and have a legal right to control who can see and use it.
California recently passed the California Consumer Privacy Act or CCPA. Many other states are following California’s lead; Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, and Virginia will also enforce new privacy laws this year.
Protecting Your Data
Ensuring your private information is protected online is important. Here are a few steps to safeguard your information:
Clear Your Cookie Cache Regularly: Your online behavior is tracked by most sites using “Cookies”. The U.S. does require websites to alert users of cookie usage, however, it does not require the website to make the user aware of the degree to which the cookies are recording their activities.
Cookies themselves aren’t harmful; however, if your cookies are stolen during a cyberattack, a scammer could gain access to your browsing history and use those cookies to enter your online accounts and steal your identity or other confidential information.
Cookies can also slow down your search speeds. Almost every browser has an “disable cookies” option that can be turned on if you don’t want cookies at all.
Turn Off AutoFill: Not having to enter your information in every time when ordering or completing a form online is very convenient; however, autofill features make it much easier for a criminal to get their hands on your data if you are involved in a breach.
Many browsers’ autofill functions will automatically complete all boxes on a webpage, regardless of whether you can see them. This allows sites to hide boxes on their pages and collect information that you may not necessarily want to provide them.
Although very convenient, AutoFill is also very risky. You can turn autofill off in your browser’s settings. Another option is to use a password manager that encrypts and keeps all your passwords in one place and can be accessed only by you with one master password.
Use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): In addition to using strong, unique passwords for each account, using multi-factor authentication when available adds another layer of online protection. Multi-factor authentication offers protection against hackers by double-checking the user’s identity via text or emailed code. Using MFA is a way for users to increase their own security online because even if one credential is compromised, hackers are typically unable to satisfy the second authentication requirement.
When available, you can activate MFA on most programs and devices by checking your security settings.
Connect to a Virtual Private Network (VPN): Browsing on an unsecured public internet connection opens the door for criminals to hijack your information. Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, are services that protect your data and privacy while online. They do so by masking your IP address while you are connected to any public wi-fi hotspots, which can stop criminals from grabbing your personal data.
There are many options for VPNs – here is a list of the most popular for 2023.
Challenges of Protecting your Data
Your privacy is valuable and worth protecting. Understanding and implementing these simple data security strategies can increase your level of protection against hackers and online criminals attempting to access your important information.