With more people and devices connected to the internet, the term “digital privacy” has become increasingly important, especially after recent data breaches have compromised countless accounts, causing many to worry about the risk of identity theft. While it is simply defined as the protection of information from private citizens who use digital media, its parameters are a little more obscure.
For nearly 10 years, the U.S., Canada and Europe have recognized January 28 as “Data Privacy Day” (or Data Protection Day). The observance is meant to raise awareness on the importance of protecting the personal information of internet users, especially in an age when online privacy continues to prove more difficult to define.
Despite these efforts for heightened awareness, a 2015 international survey conducted by Microsoft found that most users still don’t fully understand what kind of data is collected from them online, and that’s because websites use different types of data in a variety of ways. In some cases, this data is voluntarily provided by the user, and other times it is taken without consent or knowledge. Either way, every time you visit a website, whether you’re shopping or posting on social media, you are creating a digital trail.
One component of this trail is a “cookie,” which is one way that a website can identify you as a returning visitor. This is why certain sites can feel tailored to your interests because they are based on your previous activity. While in some ways this can be a convenience, it can make people uncomfortable. For the most part, websites are collecting innocuous details, but pieced together these bits of information can create a full picture of the user. This is why the issue of digital privacy has become so prevalent, leading to the introduction of a number of bills hoping to ensure the privacy and security of consumers online.
While politicians and policymakers aim to make digital privacy a basic right, it is still a constantly shifting landscape, especially now that so many devices are connected to the internet and require personal data to operate. Not knowing who has access to what data and what it’s used for is an unsettling feeling, especially since so many of us rely on technology to work or, in the case of medical technology, survive. Research by the Pew Research Center found that while most Americans want control over their personal data, only 9 percent believe they actually have it.
This doesn’t mean you can’t achieve at least some level of privacy. At the core of Data Privacy Day is the emphasis on selective sharing. So many people use social media to share personal details that are easy accessible to anyone. The National Cyber Security Alliance recommends that users take as much control of their online presence as possible by being thoughtful before posting and adjusting privacy settings to a level that you’re comfortable with. You can also be more selective about what you share by changing privacy settings on your browsers—some browsers allow you to turn on 'Do Not Track' or to erase cookies.
In a data-driven age, digital privacy is more important than ever. Although it is challenging to predict exactly how collected data will be used it’s important to understand as much about our personal data as possible in order to secure and protect it. If you're concerned about the security of your data, invest in an identity theft protection service that monitors credit files, SSN information and public records information—this can help you detect when your information is being shared or used for fraud. Better yet, sign up for Privacy Now, an innovative tool that allows you to take better control of your digital privacy through alerts and active monitoring of threats to your data.