Each year, Data Privacy Day (or Data Protection Day) is honored on the 28th of January in the United States, Canada, Israel, and 47 European countries. Its purpose is to raise awareness and promote best practices for data privacy and protection in the digital age. In the weeks prior and after the anchor day, it’s good to take time to reeducate yourself on what you can do on a regular basis to help to keep your data private.
So, what’s the scope of the data in question? What best practices can help to keep it private? And what tools can you use to assist you in the tasks? We examine these questions here—and provide some tips and tools to address them.
What’s the private data in question?
When we talk about keeping your data private, you first need to remind yourself about the kind of data typically gathered about you in the course of your digital life—and where it resides:
- Identity data. This is core data about your body and mind. It includes your physical characteristics, including gender and race, as well as the biometrics that are used by various systems to track or identify you. It also includes the data that defines your knowledge or beliefs, your preferences and orientations, as well as data comprising your life history, ethnicity, location, social and professional connections, and family.
- Extra-sensitive data. This is data about your national and state identity, as well as health data, finance, and commercial transactions. It includes your social security, driver’s license (aka Real ID in the US), and passport numbers; your mental and physical health history; your savings, debit, credit, retirement, and investment cards and accounts; and all the other online accounts (and identity access data) you use to transact business, to buy and to sell.
- Where the data resides. And here’s the crux of the matter. All this data is continually at rest or in motion in many locations. It exists on home and mobile devices, in apps and in transit across networks, and in online repositories. All along the way, you need to protect the privacy of the data—when you set your devices up; when you download and install your apps; when you receive or send it in emails, messages, or via banking apps; and when you agree to store it with the hospitals, government agencies, and private companies you conduct your business with. It’s a tall order to keep track of all this, and it requires knowledge and diligence!
12 Tips to keep your data private
Best practices can become good habits along the way as you use and monitor your private data. Here are some tips to help you do so:
1. Protect your IDs and passwords. Create and manage account IDs and strong passwords with a secure Password Manager.
2. Don’t overshare on social media. Use the privacy tools on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media to restrict the sharing of your personal data to only those who need to see it.
3. Watch for data-stealing events or processes. These include phishing attempts in email, text, or multimedia messages, in ads, and on websites that ask to you enter your identity data, to click on malicious links, or to download malicious files.
4. Take note of app data privacy issues! Download apps from reliable sources, pay attention to desktop and mobile app permissions for privacy policies and unwarranted data collection when you install them, and uninstall unused apps.
5. Maximize the privacy settings in your accounts. Include multi-factor authentication whenever possible, to force accounts to make sure it’s really you that’s logging in.
6. Protect your device privacy with anti-theft hardware and software. If your device is lost or stolen, you need to be able to lock or wipe it.
7. Close accounts you no longer use. Unused accounts contain private data that can soon become unsafe when you’re no longer monitoring them.
8. Keep your software and applications up to date. Updates contain security and vulnerability fixes that can keep you safe.
9. Turn off network services when not in use. WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS are typically enabled all the time on most people’s mobile devices. This invites cybercriminals to connect to your device in public places. Disable the services when you’re not using them.
10. Use a VPN on public WiFi. Public WiFi is unsafe when there’s no password for access—and even then, WiFi hotspots can be used by nearby hackers to steal your data. Always use a personal VPN when you’re on public WiFi.
11. Do secure data backups and deletions. Back up your data on a timely basis to a secure, encrypted, and password-protected external drive or cloud service to ensure you can recover accidentally deleted data or data held hostage by criminals via ransomware. Note too, that when you delete sensitive files, use a data deletion program to securely overwrite the file sectors on your disk, so they can’t be recovered.
12. Install reliable security apps on all your devices. Trend Micro Mobile Security includes the following privacy-related tools for smartphones (iOS + Android) and tablets:
- Web Guard. Blocks spying and websites containing malicious software or identity-stealing scams using a private network (VPN). Works with your preferred browser.
- SafeSurfing (iOS). A built-in secure browser, to protect you from website threats.
- Email Defender. Avoid scams shared through instant messages and images, which can steal your identity data.
- Social Network Privacy. Scans Facebook and Twitter privacy settings, to ensure optimal privacy. Helps automate the editing of privacy settings.
- Wi-Fi Checker. Checks the safety of your WiFi connection and notifies you of security risks.
- Pay Guard Mobile (Android). Checks finance and shopping apps for security risks.
- Lost Device Protection. Lock or wipe your lost or stolen mobile device.
- Device Access Status (iOS). Check iCloud for two-factor authentication.