It’s January 28—and that means that today is International Data Privacy Day. Actually, it’s National Data Privacy Day in the United States and Data Protection Day in Europe—but that’s just semantics. Data Privacy Day was originally established as European Data Protection Day by the Council of Europe in 2007 to raise awareness of data privacy issues and promote data protection best practices. I’ve gathered insight from IT professionals and tips you can use to examine and improve your data privacy practices.

Data is the lifeblood of the internet. It’s crucial for effective business decisions. It’s more of a double-edged sword for consumers, though. Storing and sharing personal information is required for many websites and for online transactions. The value of some services—like Microsoft’s Cortana or Apple’s Siri virtual assistants—is a direct reflection of how open you are in sharing personal information. At the same time, personal information is constantly collected and used in unauthorized or unintended ways, and it’s a primary target for attackers.

Data Privacy Day is a reminder to step back and review all of the ways your data is stored and used on the internet and take steps to secure and protect it.

Experts Weigh in on Data Privacy Day 2019

For businesses, Data Privacy Day is an opportunity to analyze and improve the tools and practices in place to protect customer data. Chris Noell, SVP or Product for Alert Logic, suggests, “The most valuable thing your customers will ever entrust to you is their identity. Securing this information is about more than passing an audit or avoiding fines. It’s a moral obligation.”

“Data privacy has never been more important than it is today. Your data travels from your phone or keyboard, through the internet, to the destination you’re after. All along that path are often lots of opportunities for your internet service provider, government, or hackers to intercept your private data,” cautions Tim Fisher, GM of Lifewire, an online resource of technical content written by real-world experts.

“Trust and privacy are the cornerstones of security. Security does not necessarily imply obscurity and withholding – a society just won’t work in such a world. For society to work, physical entities need to trust each other and ensure privacy,” explains Setu Kulkarni, VP, corporate strategy at WhiteHat Security. “You can’t go to a doctor and not tell the doctor about what is bothering you because you fear the doctor will not respect your privacy. You trust the doctor. Now phase shift to today, where a doctor is using a digital assistant to capture notes, and you are using web and mobile interfaces to interact with the doctor. Now there are digital representations of physical entities in play (digital assistants, web and mobile apps) that need to afford the same (if not higher) levels of trust and privacy to you and the doctor. Systems will need to change soon to accommodate this status change of digital entities. Digital entities will become at-par with physical entities, and as such, the social contracts as we know them will need to change to ensure the trust and privacy boundaries across humans, systems and data are upheld.”

3 Things to Do to Protect Your Data Privacy

Fisher shares three things you should do on Data Privacy Day to understand how different services and apps use your data, and what steps you can—or should—take to limit access to your personal data.

1. Revisit your privacy settings

Many companies use your data like currency, and you may be unwittingly letting this happen if you aren’t paying close attention to your privacy settings. Take the time to understand how different services and apps use your data, and what steps you can take to limit their access.

  • The worst privacy settings to leave turned on include geotagging pictures, access to your phone’s microphone and location history on Facebook.
  • Want to know everything Apple knows about you? It’s actually fairly simple to check it out. Simply submit a data request and follow a few steps to verify your Apple ID.
  • Understand the basics of accessing Facebook privacy controls.

2. Set up a VPN

As private data travels from your phone or keyboard, through the internet, and onwards to its destination, it is vulnerable to interference from your internet service provider, government or hackers. At a high-level, one of the easiest things a consumer can do to keep their information away from prying eyes is to set up a VPN.

  • To configure a VPN connection on an iPhone or iPad, you can either use an app or enter settings manually.
  • Alternately, when browsing in a public place, a free proxy site hides your identity and doesn’t require much effort. See here for the 10 best free anonymous proxy servers.

3. Know your rights

The protection of personal information is legislated on an industry by industry basis and is therefore not a blanketed guarantee. Understand what’s at risk and make informed decisions.

Happy International Data Privacy Day 2019

Unless you unplug entirely from the internet and live in a cabin somewhere in the mountains, there’s no way to absolutely assure the privacy of your data. Even then, there are no guarantees. Much of what makes the internet useful and valuable and adds convenience and simplicity to your life requires sharing personal information. The goal is to maintain as much control over your data as possible, and to restrict access to only those entities you trust to safeguard it properly.

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