Monday will be Data Privacy Day (DPD), with celebrations in North America and Europe to raise awareness and provide consumers with education about privacy. DPD was started in 2008. This year's theme is, "Respecting Privacy, Safeguarding Data and Enabling Trust." This year's events will be started with a privacy forum at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC. Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen is the keynote speaker. More events are scheduled nationwide throughout February.
To support this event, Anchorfree and the National Cyber Security Alliance have developed together a list of tips for consumers to maintain their privacy when connected to the Internet via your smart phone, tablet, or laptop/desktop computer:
"1. Risky business - Make sure all family members understand the public nature of the Internet and its risks. Any digital information they share -- emails, photos or videos -- can easily be copied and pasted elsewhere, and is almost impossible to take back. Anything that could damage their reputation, friendships, wallet or future prospects should not be shared electronically."
A recent study found that 30 percent of teenage girls meet in person strangers they met online. So, it is critical for parents and families to practice safe habits while connected to the Internet and in the physical world. If you are a parent, grandparent, or guarding who plans to buy a smart phone for a child, then you definitely should read this contract one smart parent created to help her manage her teen's online usage.
2. Keep it hidden, keep it safe - Make sure all family members are careful about sharing sensitive information such as birth date, addresses, phone numbers, location, financial information, social security numbers, passwords and vacation plans. Most reputable online services have privacy settings. Teach your kids how to use them, too."
3. Browse intelligently - Avoid using sketchy, unfamiliar websites, and delete suspicious emails, particularly those that ask for unnecessary personal information or request that you download something. These may be malware or phishing sites out to steal your personal data.
There are several products available to automatically delete browser HTTP cookies and other files (e.g., Flash Cookies, and other LSO's = Locally Shared Objects) websites use to track you while connected to the Internet. This blog has reviewed some of them, including the MAXA Cookie Manager. I use the BetterPrivacy plugin with the Firefox browser.
The next item is critical because smart phones and tablets save a ton of metadata with each photograph or video you take. The metadata with your photos include a lot of descriptive information, including but not limited to a photo description (e.g., title, subject, tags, comments), author, date and time created, copyright information, image description (e.g., dimensions, resolution, color details, compression), camera description (e.g., make, model, F-stop, exposure, flash mode, zoom setting, lens maker, lens model, serial number, EXIF version), and file information (e.g., date created, date modified, file type, file name, size, attributes, owner, computer name). From photo metadata combined with your GPS location, a company can tell a lot about you, your purchases, your lifestyle, plus what you did/spent when and where.
That metadata gets uploaded to your favorite social networking website whenever you upload photos. Some social networking sites collect, save, and share all of that metadata. Others use some of it. So, consumers should:
4. Turn off geolocation - Many apps' permissions include backdoor location trackers that are constantly streaming your location. If you're not actively using your phone to navigate, turn them off. The FTC recently noted that many apps aimed at children are disclosing location; make sure your kids are following this rule of thumb as well."
The last tip cannot be over emphasized. Public WiFi hotspots are everywhere. If you expect to perform sensitive tasks (e.g., online banking, access/use sensitive documents from your employer) while connected to a public WiFi hotspot, you should:
5. Get behind a shield - Use a VPN such as Hotspot Shield, which will help identify malware sites and provide a secure, encrypted connection to the Internet for desktop or mobile devices, protecting your browsing from hackers and snoops. This is particularly important when using public Wi-Fi or other unknown networks."
The National Cyber Security Alliance is a nonprofit organization formed to educate and empower consumers about Internet privacy. It collaborates with government, corporate, other non-profit and academic entities. NCSA board members include: ADP, AT&T, Bank of America, EMC Corporation, ESET, Facebook, Google, Intel, McAfee, Microsoft, PayPal, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Symantec, Trend Micro, Verizon and Visa.
Some of those board members have a ways to go regarding privacy in their products or services. As a business consultant, I regularly use VPN software to remotely and securely access my clients' networks and servers. This blog post is not an endorsement of Hotspot Shield, since I have not used it.
What's your opinion of this list of tips? What VPN software do you use?