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Online Privacy – 3 Tips on How to Protect Yourself

Published 24 January 2023

This week marks International Data Privacy Week, a celebration of the first international treaty related to Data Protection and Privacy. The anniversary is now used by organisations to promote and raise awareness of Data Protection and Privacy. 

Our team of Data Privacy professionals at Bridewell have outlined their 3 top tips on how to protect yourselves when navigating online. 

1. Be Aware of the Trade-off Between Convenience and Your Privacy

Ever thought free apps were too good to be true? Well, you’d be correct. Whilst you may not be paying money for a particular service or subscription, you are often paying the price with your data and privacy. Yes, you heard that correctly. Many free apps instead of charging a subscription fee for their product instead sell your personal data to other companies. 

This is the business model of many free apps including Facebook and TikTok, where the information you populate about yourself on your account is then sold to other companies to sell and market their products and services to you. This does not solely include the basic personal information you add in order to sign up for an account on these apps, but also includes the posts you like, pages you follow and any other activity on the app and any app that links to your social media account. As such, these apps are able to build profiles about you based on your personal information and activity and sell your complete and valuable data accordingly. 

Therefore, it is important to weigh up the trade-off between the convenience of these apps and your personal privacy.

2. Review and Update Your Privacy Settings

Since the onset of GDPR and other privacy laws and regulations across the globe, privacy rights of individuals have been put front and centre. The benefit of this is that many companies have made reviewing your privacy settings much easier. We’d recommend you periodically review your privacy settings on your most used apps and your mobile devices in general. This helps to remind yourself of what personal information you’re allowing other users and companies to see or use for their own purposes. 

The same goes for cookies, it’s good practice to review what cookies you’ve accepted in the past. I’m sure that we’ve all been in a rush to buy something online and have clicked ‘Accept All’ on a cookie banner and then wonder why we get so many personalised ads of the shoes you just purchased! 

Privacy reviews can largely be done in the account settings of the app. Aspects to review include, what information you have selected to be publicly available versus only what you can see, permissions you have given around third-party sharing and advert personalisation. Facebook and Google are two of these companies that enable you to easily review your privacy settings. This includes settings that allow you to enable or disable personalised ads and third-party sharing – these are usually under the ‘ad preferences or personalisation’ setting. Additionally, if you use an Apple mobile device, you can manage which apps are allowed to track your activity in your device settings.

3. Protect your Data

In addition to reviewing your privacy settings, it is also vital to secure your personal data to protect yourself from malicious threats. Ways you can do this include: 

  • Using unique and strong passwords across all your online accounts, don’t repeat passwords across multiple online accounts and avoid using passwords based on any information accessible online such as your favourite football team or hometown – a password wallet like 1Password can help you securely store and generate strong passwords of randomised numbers, letters and symbols. 
  • Avoiding ‘free’ quizzes on social media to find out your ‘mermaid name’. These are often designed to gather information such as your mother’s maiden name or first pets name, which are also commonly used as security questions. 
  • Enabling multi-factor authentication – this is where you have to approve the signing into your account via another source such as text message, phone call or authentication app. 
  • Installing anti-virus software on all of your internet-enabled devices.
  • Backing-up your data either via the cloud or an external hard-drive. 
  • If you have Apple or Android devices, turning on the ‘Detect Compromised Passwords’ or ‘Password Check-up Feature’ option within your ‘Settings’ to keep up with recommendations on passwords or other personal data which may have been leaked.
  • Using credit check agencies such as Credit Score to monitor for any fraudulent activity on your credit file or connected bank accounts.

For more detailed information, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the UK’s Data Protection Regulator, walks you through certain settings and actions you can take to protect your data depending on the type of device and model you have. 

Data Privacy Week 24-28 January

The purpose of Data Privacy Day is to raise awareness and promote privacy and data protection best practices. It is currently observed in the United States, Canada, Nigeria, Israel and 47 European countries. The week originates from The Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data which was ratified by the Council of Europe on 28 January 1981. This treaty was the first international treaty concerning data protection and the privacy right of individuals.