January 28 is this year’s International Data Privacy Day—so are you keeping your personal data private?
According to the National Cybersecurity Alliance, International “Data Privacy Day is a global effort—taking place annually on January 28—that generates awareness about the importance of privacy, highlights easy ways to protect personal information and reminds organizations that privacy is good for business. Data Privacy Day began in the United States and Canada in January 2008 as an extension of the Data Protection Day celebration in Europe.”
Our personal data is always with us, and, whether we are aware of it or not, some of it is almost constantly being shared with others—often with our permission, and sometimes without. Data Privacy Day is an appropriate time to think about your personal data and how private it should be.
So why is my personal data important and why should I keep it private?
Your personal information is valuable, both to companies and crooks, and you should protect it.
A business may legally buy your personal data from a retailer or service you use, while a scammer may steal it. It’s important to think carefully about the information you share with websites and companies, and understand how software on your cellphone or computer might be sharing information without your knowledge. Decide thoughtfully about whether to share your personal data with businesses when they ask for it, and look into your software settings to find out what information is being shared with being with companies.
What makes up my personal data?
Personal data could include (but isn't limited to) these points of information:
- Home addresses
- Phone numbers
- Email addresses
- Marital or relationship status
- Number of children
- Annual income
- Purchase history—what you bought with credit or debit cards
- Schools attended
- Credit card issuers
- The companies that hold your financial accounts
- Physical location—where you are at any moment. This information can be provided in part by your Internet Protocol (IP) address, which a device (computer, cellphone, tablet computer, and, possibly, smartwatch) is assigned when it uses the internet.
- Websites visited—web surfing history. Because of European personal data regulations, most websites now offer the option to review and select specific “cookie” policies before you use the website, and you can decline, fully accept, or accept some of the policies. Cookies are small amounts of software code that many websites generate that collect in your web browser. Cookies allow your website surfing to be monitored and tracked to a limited degree, and are one reason why you may see repetitive website advertising that seems to follow you and pop up on your computer and cellphone.
- Financial, judicial, legal, and medical accounts, records and documents
- What software you are using, such as apps on a cellphone or programs on a computer
How can I protect my privacy?
Pay attention to your cellphone apps for the information they monitor and share with other companies. Many cellphone apps ask for access to personal information, such as your geographic location, contacts list, photo album, or camera before you can use the app. Be careful about authorizing the sharing of that information, and don’t hesitate to refuse to share access with apps that want information that seems not to be necessary for their specific function; for example, a driving app may not have to know everyone in your contacts list. You don’t have to say yes to everything an app wants from you.
Dig into and manage your privacy settings for computers and tablet software—and operating systems—and then adjust the settings.
Thoroughly review all the privacy and security settings on websites, computer software (such as web browsers and operating systems) and cellphone apps, then change settings that you consider to be too intrusive or potentially unsafe. Operating systems for computers and other devices often have automatic “telemetry services” that hourly, daily, or periodically send usage and performance data to the software creator or manufacturer of the device. This telemetry data is supposed to be anonymous, and you should have the ability to opt in or out of it being monitored, collected and sent. Dig into the system settings, review them carefully and adjust or disable them to enhance your privacy. If you’re not comfortable with sharing information, then don’t let it be shared.
Try to browse anonymously. In your web browser settings for privacy and security, you may have the option to change settings so that you can browse somewhat anonymously; the settings may include asking websites not to identify your location or track you and have your browser refuse to store cookies.
Review the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) Manage Your Privacy Settings page for more detailed information on software privacy settings. The NCSA is a government/private company partnership that creates and implements cybersecurity education and awareness efforts to keep individuals, their organizations, their computer and network systems, and their sensitive information safe and secure online.
Use multi-factor authentication for getting access to your apps and websites. Some apps and sites offer multi-factor authentication. With multi-factor authentication, you are required to use additional authentication to be allowed to access your accounts—you have to prove that you’re you and not someone else trying to access your accounts. Multi-factor authentication means you must also use either a Personal Identification Number (PIN), a passcode (usually a set of numbers that might be texted or emailed to you), or a fingerprint, before you can get access to software or website accounts. Do not share your PIN for apps, websites, credit or debit cards with anyone, and Delta Community will never ask you for it.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN is software and a service that creates what is often described as an encrypted digital tunnel that all your internet traffic (audio, video, email, chat, and gaming) can go through, and your data should be invisible and protected from hackers. Companies and schools often provide VPN service for employees and students, and there are a variety of free and paid VPN services to research that may meet your needs.
Change your home Wi-Fi password to make it longer and more complex.It helps to improve personal cybersecurity if you regularly do a password update to make your passwords more resistant to hacking.
How else can I protect my personal information online?
In 2020, the U.S. government’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) offered extensive information on how to improve online security, and some of its advice is in these tip sheets below:
Another federal government agency, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has useful advice on keeping personal information private. Delta Community also has some ideas on protecting yourself, your data, and your online accounts in these blog posts: