From browsing the internet, to the games we play, the websites we look at, and our private chats… everything we do online creates data that is harvested and sold by advertisers at best and nefarious actors at worst. These interactions are monitored and tremendous amounts of data is being collected about us.
We need only look to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to see how this data about our personal lives and our minds can be used to manipulate us.
It may feel like a lost cause since big tech companies already have access to so much of our personal data. But we can take back control of our personal information, according to data privacy expert Christina Glabas.
Glabas says there are a number of steps we can take to safeguard our personal data.
Even small decisions can go a long way in helping us reclaim our privacy — and our peace of mind.
The founder and principal consultant of Gazelle Consulting, Glabas shares the practices she puts in place to minimize her online exposure outside of her professional life:
01. Avoid or disable any voice activated device or service — and cover up your webcam.
Voice activated assistants are always listening to the sounds around it in order to know when a voice command occurs. like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, They can hear everything that’s going on in your home.
Whistleblowers at Amazon have revealed that recordings from users’ homes are listened to by staff to quality control the software. They’ve heard things like drug deals, sexual encounters, domestic disputes and anything else you could imagine that goes on in the home.
The small convenience that smart devices bring to our lives simply isn’t worth the trade offs in data privacy and security. But if you can’t kick Alexa to the curb, there are privacy measures you can take to stop Jeff Bezos from listening in on your private conversations.
Your device’s web cam can also be the trojan horse in your house, as the camera can easily be hacked without the recording light turning on and without your knowledge. Former FBI Director James Comey defended his practice of putting a piece of tape over his laptop’s webcam, saying: “There’s some sensible things you should be doing, and that’s one of them.”
Fortunately, there are a number of products on the market now that allow you to cover your device’s camera when you aren’t using it — and that goes for our smart phones too!
02. Take control of your social media privacy settings.
I ensure my social media privacy settings are as restricted as possible. I also review the settings on a regular basis.
However, making these changes once may not be enough. Facebook, for example, has been in hot water for nearly a decade for their habit of changing user’s privacy settings without their knowledge.
I periodically review my privacy settings to make sure I am protected with the latest and greatest privacy features and that no detrimental changes have been made without my knowledge.
03. Limit the amount of data that any service you use collects about you.
Some data — like gait data collected from your steps on Fitbit– may seem harmless. But did you know that this seemingly benign data can be traced back to you? Much like a fingerprint, each of us has a unique gait. In combination with location data, gait data can reveal a lot of information about our activities. These activities could include where we have been and whether or not our gait has changed. Changes in gait could even indicate potential intoxication.
Our movements around the world are also uniquely identifying. Only you go back and forth from your home, to your gym, to your office, for example. I make a habit of keeping my location services turned off unless I am actively using Google Maps.
If I can’t live without the service, as is the case with my Fitbit, I like to know what information is being collected and whether the service I’m using is worth the trade off in privacy.
I stopped using my Fitbit when I learned they had been purchased by Google, one of the most prolific data harvesters. However, when the COVID-19 quarantine began, I realized it was more important to make sure I moved during the day than to foil Google’s plot for total technology domination.
04. Make it a habit to delete your old accounts, not just the app!
Many websites give you the right to be forgotten, but you need to take action to have your personal data removed.
Social media dating profiles in particular can contain deeply sensitive information. And as the recent €10M fine issued to Grindr from Norway’s data protection agency reveals, this information is sometimes sold to advertisers. It’s not enough to delete the Tinder app on your phone, for example. Be sure to delete your entire account and then delete the app.
But what about Public Records Search sites? Consumer Reports offers some step-by-step instructions for deleting your information from people search sites.
Remember, when it comes to data privacy our good choices do add up.
What can someone who isn’t a privacy expert do to stay informed? I recommend seeing privacy maintenance as digital hygiene. Making sure you are safe on the internet is an ongoing task for all of us.
Reddit.com/r/privacy is also a good resource for news, tips, and topics related to digital privacy.
Do you have a question about how to safeguard your or your clients’ personal data? The team at Gazelle Consulting is here to help.