Digital Privacy: A Vital Consideration

January 28 was Data Privacy Day—also the last day of Data Privacy Week (January 22–28). The annual commemoration, first observed in North America in 2008, focuses on raising awareness to prevent cybercrime, safeguard private information, and help everyone utilize the benefits of digital access while avoiding its hazards.

Most people have heard of identity theft, ransomware, and other data-security concerns, but there’s a difference between recognizing the threat and understanding the facts. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing if:

  • You assume that no unscrupulous party would be interested in your information—after all, you’re nobody rich or prominent. (Spambots strike largely at random, and identity theft is profitable no matter whose identity is involved.)
  • Your security precautions are limited to “don’t click links from unknown sources.” (Scammers are masters at making phony links look legitimate—and at using scare-tactic messages to panic people into clicking.)
  • You obsess over the possibility of “Big Brother” or some other dangerous entity “watching you” through your home network. (There’s no evidence that such ideas are anything more than conspiracy rumors.)

The best way to stay digitally secure is to keep up to date on objective information—and to get it from legitimate expert sources.

Data Privacy Tips from the Pros

The nonprofit Consumer Action offers the following advice for secure use of technology involving sensitive information: see our “Beginner’s Guide to Personal Finance Apps” page for the full fact sheet.

  • Before downloading any app, double-check that the source is legitimate and reputable, with a good data-security record. (Shameless plug: our BridgingApps Search Tool is a great place to check for app recommendations.)
  • Double-check that the app/online account you’re applying for is the one you actually want, and not some unknown with a similar appearance or name.  
  • Always review official privacy policies/user agreements (along with costs and payment plans—it does happen that someone agrees to what they assume is an annual fee, and misses reading the “per month” part).
  • Keep your operating systems updated with the latest (most secure) versions.
  • Change your passwords every few months.
  • Don’t save login information on your browser, and don’t leave accounts open when you shut down. Don’t keep an obvious passwords list on your phone or computer, either. Any device can be stolen or “borrowed,” and you don’t want unauthorized users finding easy access to your accounts.
  • Try never to use a private account while on a public Wi-Fi network. If you must, go through the account provider’s own website, and make sure it has an https:// (not just http://) address.
  • Install special security technology on all your devices.

Apps and messenger services noted for effective security/privacy:

See also: BridgingApps FinTech list.

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