In today’s world we are always connected, our own devices know everything about us and at times seem like they know what we’re thinking before we even think it. Having your private information within a web of scattered software can be a bit overwhelming. This is why we believe it’s important for everyone to know what information of yours is being stored, what it’s used for, and how to have less of your information out there.

No Way to Disconnect

Pretty much everyone today interacts with the internet, using social media, mobile devices, and various software (such as Gmail). Most users understand and accept that in order to use these free services and technologies, we have to agree to disclose some of our private information.

The social networks know our preferences, and they know who our friends are; Google scans the content of our emails to offer us customized search results, and mobile apps collect information about us to improve interaction (and increase consumption).

With public outcry or not, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Samsung and many others will continue to gather as much information as possible about their users. Whether it’s to sell that data or use it to enhance understanding of user behavior, it is all part of their business model.

For most of us, it’s either impractical or impossible to really break away from these companies; we accept their invasion of our privacy because the convenience or use of their service offers us value. Of course, that does not mean they should be allowed to do whatever they want; increasingly, voices are calling for regulators to implement greater oversight and enact and enforce stronger privacy protection laws.

Apply Common Sense

The fact that we are consumers of digital services and products and that we waive some of our right to privacy to a greater or lesser extent does not mean our privacy should in any way be undervalued. Facebook indeed knows an awful lot about us, but there’s no reason we should reveal to the social network, or to our Facebook friends, any more than we need to.

We must be mindful that any post, tweet, or photo will be exposed to millions of unknown eyes. Even if we use the strictest privacy settings, all that needs to happen is for someone to take a screenshot and share it with their followers for that data to ‘leak’ into the wider public domain.Therefore, if you don’t want people to know, don’t share it online. That includes personal information, intimate photographs, private documents, and anything else that other people shouldn’t be able to see.

Smart Homes and Wearables

The world of consumer electronics is continuously evolving. When computers were first created there was no privacy risk. Personal computers were not connected to anything. We then connected them to the internet and learned not to tell strangers our passwords. With the smartphone, we also learned about the dangers of the camera and microphone.

But the evolution of modern ‘Smart’ technology is nonstop. Smart homes record our actions, photograph and record us, some even know what we have in the fridge. Because there is no need to take an active “log in” or manually run an app, our sensitivity to risk decreases, and we forget that the Smart device is there, listening to us. Here, too, the rule is: Only use such monitoring devices if you have a real need. It is wise not to install Smart cameras and microphones where they can record things we do not want others to see or hear.

Don’t forget your wearable devices, they constantly report your physiological data to a third-party data center. Here, we need to ask ourselves whether we really need non-stop monitoring or whether the danger of this data collection might one day turn out to be greater than the benefit. Leaked Smartwatch data that can be used to locate individuals is not unheard of.

What Can We Do?

For most of us, it’s not possible to completely “disconnect” and we accept some degree of our privacy is forfeited in return for the benefits of the product or services we use. But there are things that we can do to reduce unnecessary exposure:

Choose your platform, service and software – You have a choice. If you’re not happy with the privacy protections of your Chrome browser, you can explore the privacy protections offered by alternatives such as DuckDuckGo. Everything as its own pros and cons but check out what works for you and know that there are alternatives depending on what features you value most.

Explore privacy settings – If you choose to use a certain service or platform, take the time to study its privacy features. For instance, on LinkedIn you can check which applications are associated with your account and limit data sharing with 3rd parties, decide which parts of your profile are displayed as part of your public profile.

Change default password on Smart devices – Smart home devices usually ship with built-in default passwords (or worse, none whatsoever). This makes it easier for hackers to gain access to your device. Change defaults and set your own secure passwords on all IoT devices as soon as you unbox them.

Erase older accounts – If you are not using your old Yahoo! Gmail or Hotmail account (as well as numerous other accounts you probably have on obscure sites and platforms) you should erase them. This will reduce the risk of leaking data from either insecure passwords or insecure storage of your passwords. 

To conclude, don’t assume you can leave the safety of your private data solely in the hands of service providers. If you’re not comfortable with your information being easily accessible there are actionable ways to be proactive in protecting yourself, as we explained above.  Call Acme Business or visit with any of your cyber security or managed IT needs.