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How To Protect Personal Information Online and Offline

Privacy is a big issue these days and unless you’ve not been taking much notice of the news, you’ll be aware that many governments and regulators have started stamping down on how your data is collected, stored and used.

There have been notable examples with massive fines for companies such as Facebook. Even though GDPR regulations having come into force as a result of push back from governments and regulators in Europe, and scrutiny of data privacy seems high up on the agenda for congress in the US, you still need to keep your data safe as these actions may not cover you.

You may also have failed to notice how much of your information is potentially being collected and shared, particularly where larger companies have been increasingly hoovering up more and more little companies. This means that, as a minimum your data may be being shared within the company and its subsidiaries and that can be very far reaching and within apparently unrelated industries.

Data security – your personal information

Unfortunately, with social media now being such an integral part of everyday life for most, some people seem to have forgotten to keep their personal data safe. In short, it’s not a good idea to share as much about your life as you can with strangers.

Why is it a problem to share my social life online?

Well, it may seem harmless, but too much information shared without thought to strangers can easily lead to identity theft where criminals build up a profile of you online, using snippets of information you’ve unknowingly left. These include your date of birth being given away by you sharing your birthday pictures on social media, for instance. Check out this 30 second video from the UK that shows how easily someone can build a profile of you online in order to get your personal data. 

Criminals can quickly supplement this with your gender, your mother’s maiden name if you have her linked to you, your address and email address, and you can see how they start to put together a profile.

Biometric security

Keep your personal information private!

What many fail to realise is that there can be a more insidious threat to your personal data that could have long term damaging effects for you for years to come.

Medical information

You had better be sure that you keep your medical information private or information taken through one company might well be available to the subsidiaries.

Why is biometric security important?

Once your data is out there, it’s difficult to control it. For instance, when companies request urine tests for drug testing, can you also be sure that they are not checking and storing your genetic information, too? The issue is that you’d need to be able to make your own synthetic urine or at least buying it (or using someone else's!) if you don’t wish to share your own. However, luckily, there are companies that have identified this and actually produce synthetic urine delivery kits to keep your genetic information safe.

Keeping you voice safe.

Odd statement, yes? But wait, voice recognition for bank IDs is becoming increasingly common. Even if you don’t use voice ID at present, you may be forced to use this in the future, and according to some sources , there is software that can accurately reproduce your voice based upon snippets of your speech that are out there on the web.

Were this to be the case, it shows the importance of guarding against having your voice freely available on the web.

Private data you throw away

You should make sure you properly dispose of any banking receipts and private data that you throw in the bin. Once it leaves your house, it is potentially vulnerable to people who can find out quite a lot about you if they look in your rubbish.

Okay, pal, you’re clearly being paranoid now…

Well, no. even as far back as 2006, the BBC reported that Householders are still throwing out too many documents that help criminals steal their identity. In fact, during the fraud prevention week that year, police and other organisations organised a ‘bin-raiding test’ in London, UK, which found that ‘nearly half of the 120 tested homes had thrown away enough information for their identity to be stolen’.

Winding forwards to the present date, the issue of privacy and identity theft using information cast away carelessly in bins has become even more serious. Even partial information in a bin could now be the starting point for criminals to build up a picture of you that they supplement online with your social media profiles. Identity theft is a big issue and is difficult to unwind, so help to make it more difficult to find information on you and you can alleviate some of the dangers.

So, what can the everyday person on the street do about privacy?

Well, for starters, be aware of what you’re sharing and with whom. Start asking why people are wanting the information they want. Be careful who can take your information and what they are using it for. By far the most important step you can take is to start removing your private digital footprint.

Steps to take to get your privacy settings right!:

This list is by no means exhaustive in terms of protecting your privacy, and we’re happy to hear from you with other suggestions. However, below is a good start to redressing the privacy balance in your life:

  • Make sure you’re setting your privacy settings on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other social media tools to the correct level. Preferably stop sharing your private life on social media platforms so that this side of your data is protected, even from the corporations themselves! 

  • Reduce what you share about your life – you ARE being monitored, even if it’s by AI and so if you’re good with the fact that large multinational companies are using your data to more efficiently sell stuff to you then that’s up to you. For someone who feels that, ‘hey, maybe these guys are taking advantage of our data without paying us’ and are uncomfortable with being monitored 24/7 365 by strangers, then start to reduce what you share about your private life. That includes pictures, events, posts about what you’re doing, where you are at any time etc..

  • Turn off location tracking on your apps and phone.

  • Start to actually read terms and conditions when you sign up to online apps that deal with your data, social life or pictures so that you become savvy about who knows what and how they can use it and where they share it between ‘partners’. If in doubt, don’t share.

  • Browse with privacy respecting browsers that don’t track every search and click you make – like Firefox. Most websites have cookies to help make your experience better – ecommerce relies on it, but do you need to share more than that, or have your browsing activity monitored by Chrome or other browsers?

  • Search the web with alternative, privacy centric search engineslike DuckDuckgo, for instance. This new search engine has excellent search results and yet doesn’t store your data to skew the results to what they think you might be interested in, but rather shows you what you asked for.

  • Be aware of what you're sharing and why. If it’s advantageous for you to share something and you’ve weighed up the advantages against the disadvantages, then take a measured approach. Limit sharing to the items that you need to share to get the service you want. Avoid a blanket ‘Yes’ to sharing everything you do because ‘you don’t have time’. Instead, take a breath and spend five minutes perusing the terms to find out exactly what you’re in for. Live by the maxim ‘it’s easier not to share my data than it is the get it back later’ and you’ll start to take a different view on things you share.

So, should I lay awake worrying about my privacy?

If you’re sharing too much online, or throwing details in the bin that you shouldn’t, then stop worrying about it and instead, do something moving forwards.

Protect yourself and start to get your private life, well, private again...

Last update: 14.02.2020