The Truth About Data Privacy

Data privacy isn't just about encryption and tracking, it's about individual users. Vigilance is key.

data privacy

Apparently, today is Data Privacy Day. Despite whatever else you might read about privacy today, the answer for protecting it can be summed up in a single word: vigilance.

The reality of the modern hyperconnected world of social media and almost daily data breach information disclosures is that Data Privacy Day is every day in my world, and it should be in yours, too.

The simple truth is that every day we give up information that once was considered private. That information is given up for many reasons; sometimes it's to gain access to a site or service, and sometimes that information is taken by way of some form of digital tracking.

Sometimes private information is willfully given out, too. Facebook, the world's most popular social networking Website, serves as a massive public forum where lots of information that many would consider private is disclosed publicly.

While some people take the appropriate precautions and have the appropriate privacy options checked, many don't. Does everyone with access to Facebook need to have access to your birthday? Your personal photos? Your vacation plans? Any or all of those items can be used by attackers, and without limiting the scope of access, individuals are sabotaging their own personal privacy.

If you want to help improve your own personal privacy, one simple place to start is by looking at what you're sharing and with whom. Facebook has a robust set of privacy controls that can be confusing, but I strongly suggest that you take the time to read through even just the company's documentation on basic privacy settings and tools.

The other area where users give their privacy away is by agreeing to unneeded permissions on mobile apps. On Android, in particular, Google now provides users with a detail screen when installing an app that explains what permissions an app is requesting. More often than not, you'll see an app ask for access to all your contacts. While this makes sense for a phone or social networking app, it doesn't make sense for other apps. If an app is asking for more permissions than you feel comfortable with, see if you can deny the permission, or even better, just don't install the app.

Location awareness is another area of personal privacy that mobile phone users typically just give up. Does everyone always need to know your exact location? It's a simple setting to not give that out and protect your own location privacy.

Then, of course, there is tracking, be it by way of cookies or other means. The desire to limit tracking has led to the rise of ad blockers, which can in a way help protect user privacy. Mozilla's Firefox Web browser provides a built-in privacy mode with tracking protection that goes a step further, by not storing user cookies or history, while limiting the ability of sites to track users.

Certainly, when it comes to online sites, where users need to provide information in order to gain access, there is some risk. Many major companies today have privacy officers and policies to help manage the risk and ensure user privacy. That said, data breaches happen, and even the best privacy policy might not stop them.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.