Would it trouble you to know that people are making money off of you?
We’re not talking about the taxes you pay or the parking meters you feed; we’re talking about organizations making hundreds per year off you without your permission or consent. We’re talking about the buying and selling of your data: all your personal signifiers that exist online (of which there are many.) A practice that, since its inception, has, at best, skirted the legality line and, more often than not, ignored it entirely.
In recent years, companies and websites have been more transparent about their collection of your data, much to their chagrin. However, in many ways, this enforced transparency has simply pushed collectors of your data into more insidious territories. Yes, you now have the choice to accept or reject the gathering of cookies (ways in which websites can personalize your browsing experience… or sell your information), but there are still countless other ways in which your information can be accessed. And the information you give away for free (pictures of your puppy, genetic information, credit card numbers) can be big business for buyers and sellers of data.
Ominously called “data brokers”, these shadowy entities began collecting people’s personal information in the 1950’s, not coincidentally at the same time as the arrival of the credit score. Data collection is nothing new, but its persistence in the face of countless legal challenges, speaks to the size of the market and its lust for your data. And the arrival of digital communication has caused business to go boom.
If this shadowy, incredibly lucrative, industry sounds vaguely dystopian and borderline unlawful to you, that’s because it is. But everyone from multinational corporations to government entities does business with data brokers just the same,each for their own reasons. And, unless you reside far away from civilization, your movements, keystrokes, expenditures, account statements, genealogical history and social media interactions can be documentented, categorized and utilized by anyone with the right amount of motivation and money. Sometimes you unwittingly give it away freely. Other times it’s stolen.
However, there are ways you can protect yourself, and ways in which you’re protected.
28 January is Data Privacy Day, which is a commemoration of the 1981 signing of Convention 108, which protects personal right to data privacy. This European convention also had the foresight to account for the online flow of data that would become prevalent in the following decades. Since its ratification, the convention has been modernized to reflect the rapidly evolving nature of data protection. It’s a day to be thankful for intelligent people who were prepared to protect our rights in unexplored territories.
These days, Data Privacy Day has become so important that most people and organizations have extended its observation to a full week. Maintaining the privacy and security of your personal data is of utmost importance. It protects you from cybercrime, identity theft, fraud… and that icky feeling you get when someone’s peeking over your shoulder.
Along with an ever-increasing number of judicial protections and resolutions on your side, here are some ways you can protect your personal data when and if the official capacities fail or are surreptitiously worked around.
Successfully disguising your shared content, especially sensitive information, is where encryption is most effective. Converting plaintext to ciphertext protects your data from unauthorized access, and keeps your data hidden from prying eyes. Use apps that offer data encryption so that, in the event of a data breach, your information will still be protected. Additionally…
- Be careful with your personal information
Avoid oversharing personal information on social media and other online platforms. Be mindful of what you post, and review privacy settings to control who can access your information. Despite its immaterial nature, the internet has a long memory and nothing really disappears, no matter how much people try to bury it.
Regularly saving your personal data in encrypted cloud-based storage will ensure it is preserved in the event of a data breach. If your data should disappear for any reason, you’ll be safe in the knowledge that there is a safe, secure second copy elsewhere.
A virtual private network creates secure connections between computers and networks. This severely limited access ensures that unauthorized entities are unable to break in and snoop around. Secure VPNs are also helpful for safely downloading sensitive data.
Maintaining unique passwords is a painful process, but it’s deeply important to your data security. Those old days of one password fits all are long gone. In their place are secure password storage programs and the importance of using a mixture of letters, numbers and special characters. Strongly consider using two-factor authentication as well. And, yes, different passwords for every need is an important factor to consider. One data breach exposes all of your accounts with the same password to exposure and theft.
Safeguarding your data privacy is an ongoing commitment that means adopting a proactive and informed approach to your digital presence. By implementing these measures, with the full knowledge that your time spent online could be observed at any time, you’re not just protecting personal information; you’re actively shaping a more resilient and secure online environment.
Remember, the key lies in continuous awareness, regular assessments, and a commitment to staying one step ahead of potential threats. Your data is your digital identity. Guard it wisely, and navigate the online world with confidence; not just during Data Privacy Day, but all the other days as well.