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Posted on January 23, 2019

Why Data Privacy Day is Remarkably Important

Data Privacy Day can be a cause for celebration, or a wake-up call to disaster. The amount of personal information we willingly divulge to companies and other online entities is staggering. In an era where social media is a dominant form of communication, it’s never been easier for companies and criminals to target you with your own personal details, or potentially unleash them to others in an unforeseen data breach.

Security has been in the forefront of everyone’s mind since the news broke on “Collection 1,” where over half a billion email and password combinations were exposed to hackers online. Some of these go as far back as 2008, making the reach unnervingly complex and profound. The probability is high that a majority of people are using old, unsafe, and outdated passwords, and with a breach this large, it pays to err on the side of caution.

When you create a password for a new site, try to follow the recommended guidelines given to you during account creation. These tools will go far in ensuring your account isn’t compromised by someone looking for an easy way in, so avoid obvious nicknames, pet names, or anniversaries. Some helpful rules to follow:

  • An uppercase and lowercase letter plus a special character help in creating a stronger password.
  • Attempt to create “new words,” or intentionally misspell something in order to make it more difficult for computer programs to guess your password.
  • Don’t use the same password for multiple sites. If you want to use a derivative of a password you know you’ll remember, make it as distinct from the others as you can.

A strong password is just the first line of defense for your online accounts.  For this year’s Data Privacy day, many security professionals are encouraging the public to educate themselves, understand where their data is going, how it’s being used, and how much of it they willingly give up to tech giants.

Social media has become more than ever present. Modern life almost demands participation in these sites and apps. The easy intimacy generated in environments like Facebook has resulted in a globally more cavalier attitude about what information we post online. Public details, like your name, phone number or address are typically only a Google search away, even if we don’t want them to be. By willfully providing so much information to third parties, we open ourselves up to further exploitation by criminals.

We can easily take control of how much about you is posted online, because typically we are the ones that do the posting! Take stock of just how much of your personal life is on your social media accounts aside from your name. Sharing data regarding the identity of your siblings, parents, children, and spouse can be used against you by advertisers, employers, and criminals. If you want your private life to stay private, you have to be in charge of keeping it that way. Luckily, we can enjoy the benefits that social media brings us by following a few simple rules:

  • Try to limit the use of your full real name, even on social media sites
  • Remove any “searchable” options that let people look for your name using your phone number or email address on sites like Facebook
  • Set your accounts to “private” on Facebook, where only people who are your friends can see what you post or even that you’re on Facebook at all
  • “Lock” your Twitter so you can vet who sees your Tweets

Most social media sites have settings you can adjust depending on the level of privacy you would like. Even better, some have opt out options that reduce or limit the amount of data about you that’s collected. Transparency in this space is important, as we don’t always know exactly where our data is going outside of targeted advertisers. It’s up to us to decide where we share our information. If you trust a site to secure your data, by all means use it. If not, limit your exposure by only providing smaller details that don’t define you as a specific individual.

Luckily, the future of data security online is promising, as more people are waking up to the reality of the not-so-nice tactics of social media giants and advertisers, not to mention the criminal aspects of password breaches. Consumer awareness plays a crucial part in getting governments on board to enact transparency legislation that businesses must adhere to. Companies like Apple are looking for ways to introduce more secure methods to protect consumer data. In the end, regardless of what the tech giants or government does, taking steps to keep track of where we put our most intimate details is entirely up to us.