A Pew Research study found that 74 percent of Americans believe that it is “very important” for individuals to be in total control of their own data — but almost no Americans take any initiative to demonstrate their feelings with action. As much as you might claim to care about who sees and uses your personal information, like your name, contact information, payment card numbers and shopping habits, if you haven’t taken any steps to keep your data secure on your devices and online, you are telling tech giants, cybercriminals and everyone else that your data isn’t valuable to you and that you don’t much care what anyone does with it.
Personal data is becoming a bigger and bigger legal issue. If you want to wrest control of your data, here are some behaviors you might want to change ASAP
You Download Apps Wantonly
You want to visit a website on your mobile device, but when you navigate there, the site tells you that browsing is easier on their app — so you download it. You see an advertisement on social media for a mobile game that looks fun, so you download it. You don’t relish the task of manually tracking some information during the course of your life, like your expenses or your menstrual cycle, so you download an app.
Apps are undeniably useful and fun, but not all of them are safe. In fact, even apps produced by legitimate companies can be dangerous to you and your data for several reasons. Most companies design apps with the intention of capturing user data and using it to deliver more targeted marketing and products. Some companies gather data with the intention of selling it to marketing firms. Finally, a good number of apps are simply insecure and offer cybercriminals a straightforward path to successful identity theft.
As much as it might seem impossible, you should read the terms and conditions of every app you download, paying close attention to what data the app collects and how it uses it. You should try to limit app permissions and be sure to turn apps off when you aren’t using them. Finally, you should never download apps from untrustworthy sources; the App Store and Google Play should be the only places you go for mobile apps.
You Don’t Protect Your Browsing Cookies
Cookies are little crumbs of information that websites and browsers collect, ostensibly to make a web user’s experience a little better. Some purposes of cookies include:
- Helping to load oft-visited web pages faster
- Maintaining shopping cart contents while online shopping
- Storing login credentials for faster, simpler account access
Unfortunately, not all cookies are so palatable. Though session cookies only exist as long as you are on a website, other types of cookies, like tracking cookies, persist for the long term, as their name suggests tracking your activity over multiple visits.
The European Union recently passed legislation regarding cookie transparency across the web, with the result that websites hoping to function in Europe need to give users more control over what cookies run. If you don’t want websites to track your online behavior and use it to target you with advertising, you should make an effort to modify cookie settings both in your browser and on the websites you visit. You might also want to use a tool like Trend Micro ID Security to see where your personal information has ended up.
You Aren’t Smart About Your Passwords?
Passwords are a perennial security problem online because people aren’t good at creating codes that machines cannot crack — and as good as you think you are at creating passwords, you could probably do better.
The crux of the issue is that people aren’t good at remembering random strings of characters and thus make passwords using common names and dictionary words or else dates that are easily found online. Even if a cybercriminal can’t just guess your password — if it is more than “12345678” or your pet’s name — they can build a piece of software to try tens of thousands of different words and number combinations in a matter of minutes.
The best solution is to use a password manager to generate strong passwords and save them securely. Some browsers come equipped with functional password managers, but if you need the added security, you should consider investing in a tool like LastPass or Dashlane.
Your data is important, and if you firmly believe that, you need to act like it. The sooner you start protecting your data actively by paying attention to your online behavior and utilizing security tools, the better your online experience will be.