Tips for How to Protect Your Data and Identity Online
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Online data privacy will continue to be a major topic for as long as people entrust their personal and browsing data to websites and online platforms, and as more and more real-world companies move online, it seems more and more likely that online data privacy will need to be a constant for many years to come.
In this article, we'd like to share some tips for how to protect your data and identity online, which includes two main types of data: personal data that no one but you should have access to (i.e. bank info, credit card numbers, social security number) and browsing and usage data, the latter of which can be legally collected by companies with the user's consent.
Regardless of the type of data, you should be able to choose when and where you want to share your personal data, and of course it goes without saying that any unwanted data breaches could lead to serious problems and potentially even identify theft.
If you own a small business, a data breach could result in financial trouble or the loss of private customer data.
Thankfully, keeping your data safe isn't that difficult if you follow some basic preventative steps. Read on to learn more.
Use complex passwords and change them often
Starting with personal data protection, you've no doubt heard about the extreme importance of using secure, complex passwords.
Long, random passwords are incredibly secure compared to passwords based on words or names.
Sites like this one are capable of generating random passwords that can also be adjusted to meet certain parameters, such as length and the types of characters used.
Every one of your passwords should be as strong as possible, and no two passwords should be the same.
Even if you've changed the passwords for all the sites and services you use most often, like your email and banking service, it's possible for prying eyes to get access to some of your most crucial information through a service that you haven't used in years, especially if you haven't updated the relevant password. Be sure to update passwords for every site you can think of.
Of course, the major challenge with using strong, random passwords is keeping track of them all. Thankfully, there are a number of services now that offer secure password storage and management.
The more often you update your passwords, the smaller the chance of a breach.
Beware phishing attempts
As passwords have become harder to guess, data criminals have started to use other tactics more frequently.
Phishing refers to the practice of posing as a company or service as a way of encouraging users to share account information.
To the average user, it can be difficult to identify a fake company email or a fake phone call, but there are a few key identifiers to keep in mind.
For one, an actual company will never ask you to share your password with them in an email or during a phone call, and not even the biggest government agencies will ask you to provide your full social security number except through a secure website.
Trust your instincts. If you feel like something's off, ask for credentials. In the case of a suspicious email, check the email address the message was sent from and compare it to the address in company emails you know are legitimate.
It's the same for websites that don't look quite right. Check the URL and compare it against the official website. Some companies might even provide lists of valid email addresses and URLs for users to compare against.
Now let's move on to how you can protect your usage and browsing data.
Pay close attention to data sharing agreements, featuring Preet Raj
If you've spent any amount of time online in the past couple of years, then you've no doubt noticed the data agreement banners that pop up on a site you're visiting for the first time.
Each one prompts you to agree to the site's own data collection policy. If you want, you can customize which types of data are collected by the site.
These prompts and agreements are the result of relatively recent consumer data privacy laws, and here to explain data collection and sharing in more detail is Preet Raj, the Co-founder and CTO of Bakstage, who has been named one of Entrepreneur Magazine's Top 10 CTOs to Watch in 2022.
Raj is a data expert, and he's made it clear that his mission is to enable transparency with regard to data collection practices and give users control of how their data is shared and used.
The data usage agreements we just mentioned meet the legal requirement of first-party consent. When it comes to legal data collection, one of the best things you can do is pay close attention to these agreements and customize them if necessary, as Raj explains here.
"In today’s digital landscape, users should pay attention while agreeing to data collection and sharing policies when they sign up and consent to sharing their data on any website. Users should also review their Digital Ad Personalization Settings to control and manage how companies are using their data to customize their ad experience on the internet."
First-party consent is definitely an improvement on previous online data collection methods, but Raj stressed that there's definitely still room for improvement and that total transparency should be the goal, which ties in to the mission of his company, Bakstage.
"All companies need to be completely transparent while collecting user data and need to explicitly show users how their personal data is going to be used. They should also give users granular controls to turn off data sharing at will. Bakstage champions user data privacy and allows users to see and manage all the data they ever shared via the Bakstage platform."
Don't stray from a secure connection
Having a secure connection to websites means that your activity on that site isn't vulnerable to unauthorized access.
However, in the course of your online adventures, you've probably come across a handful of sites that don't have a valid security certificate, which means that your connection to these sites is not secure.
Thankfully, some of the major browsers provide ample warning when you're about to enter a site that can't provide a secure connection.
Some browsers (we're referring specifically to Chrome here) even make it difficult for you to actually proceed to a site that doesn't have a secure connection.
Consider a VPN for private browsing
VPN ads are pretty ubiquitous these days, and that's for good reason. Strong, reliable VPN services can allow you to completely mask your browsing data from your ISP.
Many of these services also offer low subscription rates as well, but it's important to read the fine print when choosing a VPN.
Some VPNs do indeed collect customer data while hiding it from ISPs. In fact, Facebook (now known as Meta) previously purchased a VPN service with the express purpose of monitoring which social media sites customers were using.
Check and double-check to make sure that the VPN service you choose promises not to collect your data for their own use.
Keep it secret, keep it safe
These are just a few ways in which you can carefully monitor and protect your personal data and browsing data.
If you're a small business owner who's concerned about protecting your data or you've already suffered a data breach, the next step may be to contact a digital security firm or specialist to go the extra mile and feel that your data is safe.
But for most people, following the tips we've talked about here will be more than enough to to keep you and your data safe.