Why do you need to boost data privacy to protect your data? Over the course of the last decade, data became the world’s most valuable commodity, outstripping oil, gold, and many others besides. The rise of mobile-first technologies and the broader shift to predominantly internet-based practices meant user data was abundant and of incredible interest to several parties.
In the 21st century, convenience is a major selling point. Apps and programs that allowed us to perform certain tasks faster and easier than ever before became the gold standard. Meanwhile, social media became ubiquitous, touching most people’s lives on the planet in one way or another.
When we first started spending far more time online, we didn’t really consider what happened to all the generated data. Now though, there is increased awareness and we know just how out of hand the collection and use of peoples’ data have become. We’ve even coined a new term to describe this cultural phenomenon: surveillance capitalism, a market system based on personal data as a commodity.
Here, we overview a few ways to take back your privacy online and keep your personal data secure, which will improve data privacy. First, though, let’s take a closer look at the parties who are interested in your data.
Who is interested in the data you generate?
Several groups are highly interested in user data, and for the most part, these groups do not have the user’s best interest in mind.
Think back to the earlier days of social media. Ever remember being surprised to see an advertisement for a product you had just googled in your newsfeed? At the time, many of us were slightly bemused and made jokes about how much our phones and devices were watching us, but this was just the tip of the iceberg.
Most of the “free” services we use online (Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, Google, and pretty much all the big names) collect information on users’ online browsing habits and behaviors. That information can then be used for commercial purposes, such as being sold to third-party brokers, who then sell the data to other parties.
Often, users are unaware of the full extent of the surveillance. It sounds dystopian, and it is. Some experts even say that major tech companies may end up shaping how we act and behave and our preferences in the future.
Your own government and the government of other countries have an interest in user data and behaviors too. Sometimes this interest is for helpful reasons, such as improving online governmental services; other times, the interest is more nefarious.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the psychological profiles of American voters were sold to political campaigns, brought many questionable practices to light, even though they had probably been hiding in plain sight for several years.
Users may have consented to have their Facebook and Google data used for advertising purposes (it’s in the fine print), but few are aware of just how interesting this data is to governments. In fact, in 2019 alone, the US government made 163,000 user data requests, and the government’s number of requests to Google have increased by 510% since 2010, as reported in Mashable.
While not as interested in the products you intend to buy, cybercriminals (both individual actors and criminal groups that are as organized as legitimate companies) are interested in which websites you use, how often you log in, and especially your login credentials.
Although it now receives fewer media coverage than it once did, identity theft is still a pressing concern; as more of our lives are managed online nowadays, it’s easier for threat actors to steal personal information.
Boost data privacy: Retaining your privacy in this landscape
Despite the complexities of today’s digital landscape, and the fact that it’s so dependent on data, there are some things you can do to limit what you’re sharing with the parties above and retain your privacy:
Avoid free products and services
We’ve heard the adage “if it’s free, you’re the product” for years now, but for many of us, the realities of that statement are only just beginning to sink in. Because many free products exist with the sole purpose of collecting and then selling user data, it’s best to avoid these if you’re protecting your privacy.
There are certain exceptions, such as Mozilla.
Ditch Chrome and switch browsers
Although it’s the world’s most popular browser (and, let’s face it, it performs really well), Google’s Chrome is one of the worst offenders when it comes to privacy. Thankfully, there are other free options that prioritize privacy, such as Mozilla’s Firefox.
Mozilla, a non-profit company, has banned tracking cookies, demonstrating a genuine effort to move away from mercenary online practices.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Did you know that your devices all have a unique IP address that identifies them on a local network? What that means is that websites and other parties know which country you’re connecting from. Have you ever been shopping on a foreign website, and the site has asked whether you’d like to switch to a local version of the store? That’s an instance of your IP address being used.
You can hide your IP address and hide your location with a VPN. These handy pieces of technology generate a private browsing network and encrypt all your traffic in the process. In turn, that helps keep threat actors such as cybercriminals at bay. VPNs are essential if you often use open-access public WiFi networks, such as those found in city centers and airports.
Double-check which apps are using your information and how
All apps and programs need some of your user data for their own functionality reasons, but sometimes the data they collect has nothing to do with their own program. For example, should TikTok be able to access your browsing data, or does an app that converts files to PDFs really need access to other apps on your phone?
Check what you share and with whom; it’s a tedious process going through the fine print, but it’s an excellent way to shut down any data collection points.
Follow the steps outlined above; start taking back your personal data and your online privacy and boost data privacy.