In some parts of the world it’s Privacy Awareness Week. Initiated in Australia, it’s a time when people stop to take a more careful look into privacy issues, especially those involving digital communications.
Privacy Awareness Week’s a good reminder for all of us to consider how much of our privacy’s been absconded by the digital age, and decide whether we can live with it or not. An article in the New York Times last week describes a woman who was identified by advertisers as an MS patient, simply because the year before she had done some online research on MS and various other diseases. Now, labeled as an MS patient, the woman wonders whether this could affect her ability to qualify for health insurance at some point in the future, in addition to other unknown scenarios. Is this a valid concern? It certainly is!
Is it too late?
The woman who was targeted as an MS patient is all too familiar. How many times have you looked up something online and been bombarded with advertising about that specific thing, or even related topics? It happens constantly, every single day. Even writing an email to your mom about your dog results in Google showing you ads for flea medicine and doggie jackets. Have you ever done an Internet search on your own name? It may be surprising what the world’s been allowed to know about you.
In the big picture, it’s probably too late to go backward. We can’t return to the good old days when what we viewed or shared online was our own business. But there are a few things we can do to improve our personal privacy status when it comes to our mobile devices. We’ve shared them before, and share them again in honor of Privacy Awareness Week.
- Passwords: Passwords should be based on something obscure, like the initials of a favorite quote or personal mantra. Incorporate at least one special character, at least one number, and don’t use the name of your pets, kids, street name, company name or any other easy-to-guess word associated with you. Make sure to change your password frequently.
- Updates: Download security updates when you’re prompted. Keep your phone current.
- Phone lock: Keep the phone on a short leash with an auto-lock that will kick in after just a few minutes. If you leave your table to get a coffee, it won’t be vulnerable to prying eyes.
- Social Networking: Don’t overshare – be careful not to post addresses, phone numbers or information about vacations, family or other tips for potential identity thieves, stalkers or bullies. Checking-in may be fun for your friends, but it also tells stalkers and other predators where you are. Forego it, if you can.
- System: Keep your phone clean by deleting any data that doesn’t need to be there.
- Notices: If you receive an urgent message from a bank or financial institution, do not click on it or provide any of the requested information. These flash messages often want you to think your account’s in jeopardy and that you need to re-enter your private data. It isn’t, you don’t – and you shouldn’t.
- Permissions: Learn to read permission agreements, end-user license agreements and terms of service agreements to make sure you’re not giving away private data when downloading new apps. And while you’re at it, teach your kids what to look for.
- Wi-Fi: Public Wi-Fi hotspots are often an easy target for cybercriminals. Make sure you’re working within a secured network. Hotels, coffee shops and malls are often the worst places to go online. Merchants don’t always provide super-tight WiFi security because they don’t want to require passwords, and they want to accommodate every kind of device. Besides, a good cyber-criminal knows how to break most Wi-Fi systems.
- Security: Always use a strong mobile security product to keep out the viruses, malware and fraudulent demons that tend to slip into your phone’s system when you do a lot of web surfing.
- When you dispose of a phone, be sure it’s wiped clean of all data.
Share your thoughts and ideas about privacy here on our blog, or talk to us on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear from you.