It is remarkable how much trust people have in Internet-based companies. Not just that they will fulfill the expectations placed on them, but that people routinely provide extremely sensitive information to these companies without thinking for a second about what they do with it. We will take a look at data collection practices, what Internet companies want with that data, and how millions of people every year become victims because they entrust their PII (Personally Identifiable Information) to corporations that promptly lose it.
Your Average Website
Say you go to a company’s website and are interested in learning more about a service. You fill out an Internet form with your name, and often your address, your email address, and your phone number. When you hit submit on the form, you have entrusted a business with your personally identifiable information; and, most of these companies don’t just use it to reach out to you about the product or service you were interested in.
This information is valuable
The information you provide is bundled with the countless other people’s PII and sold to marketing agencies for sound profits. The company that you provided that information to looks at it as their right, as you have willingly provided it. But what happens if that company gets hacked? All of the information you’ve provided to that company is now publicly available to whomever wants to purchase it. So, who is responsible? Bad news, in most places in the U.S. there is absolutely no recourse for the consumer if presented with this situation. It’s not like they can turn back time.
It isn’t only willing participation that strips you of your data, either. Almost everything you do on the Internet–whether it be messaging, streaming media, shopping, or simply surfing the web–leaves a data trail right back to you. This goes for everyone. When each person that uses the Internet has a trail, and on that trail is all of their most personal information, it stands to reason that there would be people on the other side of this attempting to circumvent that data stream into their possession because they know they can profit from it. Data shapes the story of an individual online. A person that knows where to look can find out about people’s most intimate relationships, their financial situation, their political beliefs, just about anything they want to know. That is why it is important to have an idea about how to protect yourself online.
The first thing you have to understand about data protection is simple: you have value. Your name has value, your address and phone number have value, hell, your sexual preference and your favorite food has value. Everything about you has some kind of value to everyone looking to get their hands on it. But all that data has the most value to you. It may not seem like it, but nearly every company that deals in PII, while not clamoring to pay users for their data, do spend a lot of capital getting that information. Think about all the sales that got you to buy something. Think about all the discounts offered to get you to fill out that form. Think about the investment in website-connected software.
Knowing the value of your data should be the first sign that you need to protect it. That’s why we’ve put together these seven tips to help you protect your PII:
- Make up creative security questions – Many accounts will want you to come up with a security question that only you would know the answer to. Unfortunately, people tend to use situations that other people could guess. You have to understand that hackers are sometimes fantastically crafty and outwitting them takes some consideration. By picking a question and answer that can’t be researched, you and you alone will have outside access to your accounts.
- Read Apps Terms of Service – We know, we know, this suggestion is one of pure tedium. You don’t have to know every word of the Terms of Service agreements you agree to, but you should know what kind of data collection policy the app or service has before agreeing to give them access to your data.
- Watch out for Phishing Scams – Knowing how to decipher when you are getting scammed is important. A phishing scam can come over social media, instant messaging, or most frequently, email. If you get an email from an organization that typically won’t send you an email for that purpose, you should confirm the legitimacy before you click on anything.
- Monitor your financial activity – Today there are several services dedicated to helping people manage their finances more effectively. Finding one that you trust and provides you access to credit reports is very useful.
- Use strong passwords – Passwords that are over twelve characters and feature symbols, numbers, and a mix of upper and lowercase letters are the most effective.
- Don’t connect to public Wi-Fi (if you can help it) – We know that it is tempting to not use your data up, but you are opening yourself up to a lot of uncomfortable problems by accepting the user agreement on any publicly available Wi-Fi connection.
If you would like more advice about keeping your PII safe, return to our blog regularly, or contact the IT professionals at Excedeo at 619.398.4100 today.