Don’t protect the data – just protect yourself
Data has a communication problem – and that is killing efforts to talk about privacy and security. We think of data as a random collection of 1s and 0s – and that’s just not very interesting.
The real issue isn’t about preserving binary code, it’s about protecting your life story – what has happened in the past, what is going on right now, and what could happen in the future. It’s about caring about your story being told well – and preventing others from damaging or misusing your efforts.
We already take many steps to protect our physical wellbeing and privacy. And we do them automatically without a second thought: We look before crossing the street, lock the car when in the city, take an umbrella when it is raining, and don’t flash credit cards in public areas. These are just a couple basic, common-sense steps that keep us safe and healthy.
So why don’t we take similar basic steps with our data? While each individual stream of data – from an app, smart TV, or browser – might not tell much, but when combined and processed, they give astonishing insights into our daily lives. We don’t because all we see are those impersonal 1s and 0s. Before we can get motivated enough to act, we need to remember that data is really our life story – something of incredible value – and which needs to be protected and preserved. This free, low-tech process begins with you:
1. Awareness – what footprints you are leaving, and what you are stepping into.
It starts with awareness, says Michelle Finneran Dennedy, CEO of DrumWave. The first step is to start becoming aware of how we generate data – and how we are leaving a trail of stories about our private lives behind us, like a modern-day version of Hansel and Gretel. Our phones are monitoring our movement – even inside our private homes. Our devices track what we watch and when we watch it. Our likes are tallied to give advertisers a granular description of what we really like. Even the thermostat reports on where we are, if we are alone, and how much external heat is needed. But unlike that fairytale where the birds erased the trail, what we leave behind is tracked, recorded, processed, and resold.
2. Use a browser for different activities – financial, streaming videos, social media.
Using a different browser for different activities is a simple data hack to make a divided and smaller digital footprint. One browser could be for streaming, another for shopping, and maybe yet another for other online activities. This has both privacy and security benefits. By using different browsers, this will bring you a long ways toward not being profiled. In addition, by having passwords on different browsers, you aren’t putting all of your eggs in one virtual basket in the event of a data breach. You even might want to take this a bit further and have a dedicated device for your online financial activities that is only used on a secure network.
3. Review privacy policies before agreeing – you can do more than say yes.
It’s a fact, people really don’t read all of the terms and conditions for each website or app. That’s why one non-technical way to protect your data privacy is to simply pause, read, and think a moment before clicking the OK button. Are you sure you really want this service to collect that much data about you? Do you really think that this app’s access to your device really matches what the app needs to function correctly? If there is a data overreach, it’s up to you to pull the plug.
4. Exercise your rights – in the EU, and now in California, you have options.
Your data for access to sites and services is no longer a one-for-one tradeoff. Thanks to new privacy laws such as the EU’s GDPR and the new California data protection law, the choice is no longer a binary one. “Don’t be shy,” says Jef Ausloos, post-doctoral researcher at the Institute for Information Law. “Just ask, hey guys, what are you doing with my data?”.
With these laws, you don’t have to agree to give a site unfettered ability to collect data about you and your activities. You have the right to find out what is being collected, what is being done with this, if it is being resold – and even have it removed. These are your rights – you should exercise them.
5. Take personal and professional advantage of data protection laws.
The new data protection laws look like a maze of pop-ups and legalistic lingo. But they are actually an opportunity for you – both as an individual and as a business. As an individual, it’s up to you to be the controlling editor of your life story. Don’t let others write an unapproved version. As a business, it’s an opportunity to turn this into a competitive advantage in the marketplace, points out Maximilian von Grafenstein, researcher at the Institute for Information Law. These days, knowing how to protect and care for user privacy is a valuable skill.
Five basic low-tech steps are all it takes for you to start taking control of your data story. Starting with the basic awareness of how your online privacy is being destroyed to the latest privacy protection laws , it’s time to make the initial moves to protect your data privacy and security. It’s your story, it’s your life – give it the attention it deserves.
P.S. Interested in learning more? Read the second part in this series.