We rely on the internet for our work, commerce, entertainment, information, communications, and social networking. While our time spent on the internet has, and continues to, increase, the challenge to protect our online privacy and personal information also escalates.
Privacy is an important but elusive objective, and it is difficult to manage the amount of information about ourselves that exists on the web. To give you an idea of the amount and the kinds of information that’s collected by internet connected devices, take a look at Kashmire Hill’s TED talk. Kashmire is a senior reporter for Gizmodo who turned her home into a smart home.
It’s common knowledge that most of us don’t read privacy notices or policies. Another survey conducted in 2017 by Deloitte of 2,000 U.S. consumers revealed that “91 percent of people consent to legal terms and services conditions without reading them. For younger people, ages 18-34 the rate is even higher with 97 percent agreeing to conditions before reading.”
It’s not only consumers, however, that are concerned about privacy and data protection. Our state legislatures and federal policymakers have also entered the debate to consider how best to protect consumers online privacy. Although a few states have taken action, many experts believe these patchwork privacy laws are leaving most consumers unprotected and that a national privacy law is the best solution.
But legislative efforts take time; so what can you do to better protect your online information now?
Here are some good privacy practices you can take today:
- Keep your (computer/network) system safe. Make sure your software is kept up to date (don’t ignore those reminders to “update now”) and install antivirus software. Be aware of where you browse, what you download and don’t open any suspicious links you may receive – they could contain a virus.
- Use strong passphrases. A strong passphrase is a sentence that is at least 12 characters long. Focus on positive sentences or phrases that you like to think about and are easy to remember. For added protection, fortify your online accounts by enabling the strongest authentication tools available, such as biometrics, security keys or a unique one-time code through an app on your mobile device.
- Cookies can – and should – be deleted from your browser on a regular basis to clear your browsing history. FYI: Cookies are small files stored on a user’s computer, holding information about the individual or website which can be accessed by the server.
- Manage your privacy settings for websites and services (especially social media). Carefully read through all options and choose the settings that fit your comfort level for sharing.
There are additional resources offering tips for protecting your digital privacy. For instance, Consumer Action released this pdf resource on how your location data can be tracked and used.
While policymakers continue to craft the best legislation to address privacy and data protections, consumers need to employ as many tools as possible to build a more safe and secure online environment.
Debra Berlyn is the president of Consumer Policy Solutions and the executive director of Project GOAL, a project to raise awareness of both the benefits and challenges of innovative new technologies for the aging community.