Protect yourself on Data Privacy Day

Managing Partner, IMECS, LLC

Data Privacy Day (#DPD15) has become an annual feel good day for privacy professionals and practitioners around the world. It is observed on January 28 in most geographies, but I have seen it start earlier and end later now that it has grown in both size and scope. I attended a number of DPD events around the US last year and found them to be interesting grassroots effort to raise awareness and competency in the domain of personal privacy and how to manage it. However, this year is proving to be much different indeed.

Given the record number of data breaches and losses of personal information (PII), the massive increases in government surveillance into our daily lives, and the exploitation of our personal and behavioral data by all of the Silicon Valley giants for monetary purposes, much less the threat of new laws and regulations around the world, privacy has become the major topic on everyone’s mind, and not without merit.

On this important day, I would like to offer my thoughts on how consumers, privacy professionals and advocates alike can use this year’s Data Privacy Day to their advantage.


Data privacy for minors

First and foremost, every parent must vigilantly monitor and protect their children’s privacy in all respects. For the most part, each and every adult has already lost their privacy due to complacency, surveillance or fraud. Your Social Security Number and National ID are already in the hands of far too many actors and with little effort on their part they can correlate other data to determine your home address, telephone numbers, credit card details, passport number and more. They most likely know your complete health history including medications, the websites and social media platforms that you use and your driving record. Be careful to not let this happen to your children—once their privacy is lost, they will never be able to regain it.

There are some basic protections that you should employ;

  • Do not let them sign up for or access the internet or apps without your due diligence in advance and supervision. Read all license agreements before you accept them. Consult state and federal government consumer protection sites to find out what is safe and what isn’t. Consult third party sites such as: (NCSA) for more information before you click “Agree.”
  • Do not let them or their friends take “selfies” on your devices or theirs, especially provocative ones. Explain to children as best possible the long-term harm that can come to them from this seemingly innocent act.

Privacy policies and data breaches

It is also important to check the privacy policies (PP) on all websites, services and applications that you currently use. All of these providers will update their PP annually, with many doing so multiple times as their policies shift and change in almost real time. Determine which of these you cannot accept and cancel your participation. You can then request that your data be purged, which you should then verify through friends or third parties.

You should apply this same rigor to all of your credit and debit cards, as well as online banking. This data is protected by law, but as we have seen with the non-stop data breaches via cyber attacks a lot of damage can be done before you are ever become aware of it.

Password vigilance

Third, start taking passwords and multi-factor authentication seriously. Once again in 2014 the most frequently used password was “123456.” A password generator and manager is a good investment for everyone. Just make sure that you find one which does not have a developer backdoor to access your data or which has been hacked previously. Consumer reports can be a great resource for finding the right one based on your particular needs. Use it religiously and change your passwords every 30 days, no matter what. Password vigilance is the most important way to protect your privacy without going off the grid.

Protect yourself

Finally, as we live in a world of constant surveillance by governments and others, it is important that we keep our sensitive data and personal secrets safe from snoopers. If they have a legitimate need to snoop, then let them get a warrant. Don’t just give them your data on a platter; be smart about how you use the internet, telephones and mobile devices. Always use private WIFI, encrypt your data in flight and at rest and don’t put things in the cloud or on a mobile device that you would not want others to see.

The only one who can protect your privacy and that of your children is yourself. Do not take this responsibility lightly. What you do (or don’t do) today may have repercussions (or benefits) for decades to come.

Take the smart approach and think before you accept anyone’s licensing terms, and be willing to say “no” to those that you deem unacceptable. If you make a mistake, there are paths of recourse, but you must act quickly and be ever vigilant in the pursuit of a remedy and peace of mind. Pursue legal remedies vigorously if needed, but be prepared for a rough ride in the process.

Remember, privacy is a basic human right in most of the world and a civil liberty in the US. It is not a function and should never be traded off.