Data Privacy Week: Tips to Protect Your Data Online

Data Privacy Week is an annual campaign to spread awareness about data privacy and educate individuals on how to secure their personal information. 

All your online activity generates a trail of data. Websites, apps and services collect data on your behaviors, interests, and purchases. Sometimes, this includes personal data, like your Social Security number and driver’s license numbers. It can even include data about your physical self, like health data: think about how a smartwatch counts and records how many steps you take. 

While it’s true you cannot control how each byte of data about you and your family is shared and processed, you are not helpless. In many cases, you can control how you share your data with a few simple steps. Remember, your data is precious, and you deserve to be selective about who you share it with! 

Here are some simple tips that will help you manage your data privacy: 

1. Know the Tradeoff Between Privacy and Convenience 

Nowadays, when you download a new app, open a new online account or join a new social media platform, you will often be asked for access to your personal information before you can even use it! This data might include your geographic location, contacts and photos.  

For these businesses, this personal information about you is tremendously valuable, and you should think about if the service you get in return is worth the data you must hand over, even if the service is free.  

Make informed decisions about sharing your data with businesses or services: 

  • Is the service, app or game worth the amount or type of personal data they want in return? 
  • Can you control your data privacy and still use the service? 
  • Is the data requested even relevant for the app or service (“Why does a Solitaire game need to know all my contacts?”)?  
  • If you haven’t used an app, service or account in several months, is it worth keeping around knowing that it might be collecting and sharing your data?  

2. Adjust Settings to Control Your Comfort Level 

For every app, account or device, check the privacy and security settings. These should be easy to find in a ‘settings’ section and should take a few moments to change. Set them to your comfort level for personal information sharing; generally, we think it’s wise to lean on the side of sharing less data, not more.  

You don’t have to do this for every account at once. Start small and over time you’ll make a habit of adjusting all your settings to your comfort. The National Cybersecurity Alliance has in-depth, free resources like the Manage Your Privacy Settings page that lets you check the settings of social media accounts, retail stores, apps and more. 

3. Protect Your Data 

Data privacy and data security go hand in hand. Along with managing your data privacy settings, follow some simple cybersecurity tips to keep your data safe. We recommend following the ‘Core 4’: 

  • Create long (at least 12 characters), unique passwords for each account and device. Use a password manager to store each password. Maintaining dozens of passwords securely is now easier than ever.  
  • Turn on multifactor authentication (MFA) wherever it is permitted. This keeps your data safe even if your password is compromised. 
  • Turn on automatic device, software and browser updates or make sure you install updates as soon as they are available.  
  • Learn how to identify phishing messages, which can be sent as emails, texts or direct messages. 

For Cal Poly information security resources, visit the ITS Knowledge Base