used with permission from Norton by Symantec

To understand the importance of privacy in the digital age, one must understand exactly what it is before it can be valued. There seems to be a good number of people in the “I’m not doing anything wrong, therefore, I have nothing to hide” camp. Well, we are here to bust that myth. The truth of the matter is, right or wrong, we have everything to hide.

What Is Privacy?

Privacy is closing your bedroom curtains when getting ready for bed. Privacy is visiting with your doctor behind closed doors. While in real life this type of privacy comes naturally, with little thought, in the digital space the idea of privacy is skewed. Mostly because people don’t really understand what digital privacy entails.

What Exactly Are We Trying to Protect?

People may assume it is all about what they are doing, which is a small piece of the picture. However, online privacy has less to do with what you are doing, and more to do with who you are AND what you are doing. On the Internet, data has high value. It’s stolen, sold, collected and analyzed.

There are many facets to privacy. There’s what you do, and who you are. Who you are is your personally identifiable information (PII), which is as it sounds–your name, date of birth, address, Social Security number, phone numbers and more. What you do are the searches you perform, the websites you visit, the articles you read, even what you buy online.

Whenever you download an app, visit a website or use a social media platform, chances are that company is collecting data on you. People are doing so much more online through their computers and mobile devices today. We make purchases, look up medical conditions, arrange vacations, interact with friends and relatives, just about anything imaginable. With these actions, people are inadvertently creating a huge digital paper trail of data about themselves. While it may not be PII, these companies still track what you do on the Web and collect that data in order to get a clearer picture of you.

What Can Be Done With My Data?

A complete data set on an individual can fetch a pretty penny, completely legally, too. There are now companies known as “data brokers” that collect and maintain data on millions of people, which they analyze, package, and sell without the user’s knowledge or permission. Data brokers collect and sell information to other companies for many reasons, including targeted advertising, credit risk assessment, and direct marketing. Luckily, this data is usually anonymized, and does not contain PII.

Why Is Privacy Important?

We all have things to hide. It could be how much money you make, your medical records or your bank account number. Hiding things is not bad. I don’t think these are the types of things you’d like broadcasted on your social network for the entire world to see. This is why we must strive to protect our right to privacy.

Earlier this year, a young woman purchased a few nondescript items such as cotton balls, unscented lotion and some vitamins. Based on what the company already knew about her, they were able to correctly predict that she was pregnant, and began targeting her for baby items by sending her coupons in the mail. The issue? She was a teenage girl, and these coupons alerted her father (much to his dismay) that she was indeed pregnant.

The most important thing to remember about your privacy is that it is YOURS. It is your information, your habits and patterns, and your actions. Therefore you should want to protect it in any way possible.

12 Tips to Help You Protect Your Privacy:

1. Secure your passwords.

Passwords are the keys to our digital lives. Cybercriminals employ many tactics to try to crack them. To make this task difficult for them, use strong, complicated passwords.

  • A good password should be at least eight characters long, and use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t use full words, names, addresses, phone numbers or any other easily identifiable personal information. Be sure to avoid using the same password across multiple websites as well.
  • Two-Factor Authentication (2FA), if available, is another way of verifying your identity other than just a username and password. 2FA is composed of something you know (such as a password), something you have (a mobile phone that a code can be sent to), or something you are (such as a fingerprint).
  • Never save passwords on your device. Yes, it’s convenient. Yes, it saves time. But if you need to safely store passwords, look into a secure password manager. Criminals are getting smarter and need just one chink in the armor to get into the system to rob you blind.

2. Be conscious of all privacy settings. 

Most apps offer privacy settings for users. This gives you the freedom to know how much and what kind of information is shared. Always choose the least amount of data sharing. Always be cautious when sharing your name and location. Turn off location services and deny access to your camera.

When it comes to social media, be sure to review your privacy settings. Most social media sites will give you options to select who you are sharing your information with. Be sure those settings are set for trusted individuals and friends, rather than set to public for the whole world to see. You can check your privacy settings on popular websites via the Data Privacy Day website.

3. Be aware of your digital footprint.

Whatever you post online is there forever, even if you delete it from where it was originally posted. A digital footprint is somewhat of a digital paper trail. Forum registrations, videos, photos, just about anything you post will all leave traces of information about yourself online.

4. Get reliable security for all of your devices.

In addition to protecting your computer from malware, a good security software program such as Norton Security will protect you from other threats on the Internet landscape. There are still many vulnerabilities out there such as phishing, spyware, rogue websites, adware, keyloggers and more.

Don’t forget: Phones need as much protection as any other device, if not more. There are many security providers that offer free services. These can be risky as they mine data from your phone. Always go for a well-known service provider. Norton Mobile Security has a gamut of features that can protect your phone from most threats.

5. Back up your data.

Backing up data is often overlooked. But it is a very important aspect of data protection. Ransomware is a type of attack where hackers hold your data hostage for a ransom. There are cloud-based services that offer backup. Or you can opt for Norton Security Premium, which includes backup.

6. Anti-theft your device.

If your gadget is lost or stolen, tracking apps will help you find it. But how do you protect your confidential data before it gets into the wrong hands? Norton Mobile Security has enhanced anti-theft features to help.

7. Be careful what you do with your phone.

While being cautious with what you do with you phone is always recommended, it can get tiresome. With the vast amount of malware, Trojans, and worms finding sneaky ways to get into your device, it is better to stay protected with a security system that does the work for you. App Advisor is a special feature provided by Norton Mobile Security. It prompts privacy risks, intrusive behavior of apps, excessive battery drainage and data plan usage. It also has call/SMS blocking, anti-theft, contacts backup and protects your mobile phone from malware.

8. Watch out for Bluetooth vulnerabilities.

Bluetooth technology offers incredible convenience. It also opens doors for security weaknesses. Make sure you turn off your Bluetooth when you are not using it. While there are options to place your Bluetooth activity in an invisible or undetectable mode, there are some malicious apps that can change that mode and expose your device to threats. That’s one more reason to have a security system in place.

9. Keep your operating system up to date.

Software updates perform a myriad of tasks. They are available for both our operating systems and individual software programs. Performing these updates will deliver a multitude of revisions to your computer, such as adding new features, removing outdated features, updating drivers, delivering bug fixes, and most importantly, fixing security holes that have been discovered.

10. Wise up to Wi-Fi

Secure your home network. Change the default username and password on anything that connects to your network, especially your Internet router. Use Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), which will encrypt the data traveling through your network. Turn on all firewalls on both hardware and software programs.

While most home Wi-Fi connections are encrypted, some public Wi-Fi connections are not.

11. Delete data that you no longer use.

If you haven’t used a program in months uninstall it. If you have a lot of old documents that you don’t access anymore, you can delete those as well, or store them offline on an external hard drive. These can be repositories of personal information that you may have forgotten about. If you haven’t used a program in a while, chances are it is outdated.

12. Familiarize yourself with phishing.

Phishers generally attempt to impersonate a well-known organization, such as a banking or financial institution, in order to try to obtain your user credentials, or deliver malware to your computer via suspicious links or attachments in email messages. Never click on attachments or links from unknown senders or from suspicious looking emails. Instead, if you think your account is in jeopardy, go directly to the website in question by typing the address into the URL bar in your browser rather than clicking the link in the message.