How to Protect Your Personal Data Online

In an age where we ‘Google’ before we ‘think’, and have devices adhered to our person, cyber space is rife with our personal data. Every interaction we have on our phone, tablet or computer sheds a little more information about ourselves.

What is ‘data’ and how are we shedding it?

If you were to combine someone’s Facebook information along with their bank transactions and health record – you’d have a pretty clear understanding of who they are as a person.

Add to it all their loyalty programs, online shopping history, Uber rides, text messages, photos taken or tagged in, voice commands, memberships, online banking applications (successful or not), LinkedIn, Instagram, MySpace (yes that data is still out there!), online dating history… as well as every website visited, every Google search performed, video watched and direction asked – and that data creates a very robust profile.

Not just of their demographics (age, gender, race, marital status, location, political persuasion, religion, income, where they live) but of their ‘psychographics’ too – their sense of humour, fashion style, which people who are influential to them, and what they aspire to.

The benefit of data

Sharing our data is what makes online interactions so convenient, and what makes tools like Facebook and Google free to use.

It also enables businesses we interact with regularly to make their services smarter, faster, and easier to use – and deliver more personalised products and experiences.

Misuse of data

We put a lot of trust in corporations to keep our information safe – which doesn’t always happen (such as Uber’s loss of 57 million users’ information) – and for them to use our data within the terms of the privacy agreement.

Misused data by individuals can lead to identity theft or contribute to revenge-style slander.

Data misused by corporations, as demonstrated by Cambridge Analytica, can even exploit our personal thoughts and manipulate our critical decision making.

What about policy?

We heavily trust and rely upon higher powers to ensure the safe collection and use of our data. In fact, we have to: Two researchers at Carnegie Mellon found it would take the average user 25 days per year to read every privacy policy on every website they visited (and that was 10 years ago!).

The problem is, it’s impossible for policy makers to keep up with the pace of technological advances. Furthermore, many of the apps and sites we engage with are owned by companies registered offshore in countries that each have different regulations.

How can I keep my data safe?

You can’t guarantee your data safety, but you can do a few things to make it less vulnerable, such as:

  • enable two-step authentication
  • regularly review and tighten social media privacy
  • turn off location services on your phone and apps when not using them
  • use an encrypted chat platform such as WhatsApp
  • use strong and unique passwords
  • create a Google alert (https://www.google.com.au/alerts) and be notified any time your name is listed online.

Has your data been compromised?

If you feel your data has been misused or your identity has been stolen, our cyber crimes division can help. Contact us today.

Based on Katie Kenny’s original article “Data for Sale”. https://interactives.stuff.co.nz/2018/10/data-for-sale/#data-savvy

Listen to Keith Schafferius Radio Interview March 2018