Stay Tech-Savvy Without Risking Privacy

Data privacy is something that we all must embrace as part of our daily lives. From the way we pay for our groceries to the federal legislation efforts to safeguard online reputations, data privacy has a growing impact on our lives.

Your Social Life:

Do you realize the permanence of the information you publish publicly on your social media profile? Even those who are conscious of maintaining a polished online reputation might not realize the difficulty of managing their social media site’s privacy settings appropriately: A recent study at Columbia University had 100% of participants with Facebook privacy settings that didn’t show and hide the information they had wanted to.

In November 2011 Facebook settled a lawsuit with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after Facebook had shared user information publicly, despite ensuring their customers that private information would be safeguarded. Some Facebook users might have been deterred after hearing this news, but others are likely feeling safer now that the privacy practices of their favorite social media platform is being scrutinized. As a result of this case, Facebook will undergo privacy audits every other year for the next 20 years. They have also dedicated two chief privacy officers and other resources to meet privacy standards.

To learn more about Facebook security or adjust your settings, see the “privacy settings” page of your account. To access privacy settings, click the arrow in the upper right corner of your home page.

Picture hosting and sharing via sites like Twitter and Flickr can share your location if you aren’t careful. Smartphones will embed your geographic location, and that data is embedded in the files posted online. On most phones it is simple to disable the geotagging feature, though many users are unaware that this information is being collected to begin with.

Need help with figuring out how to disable geotagging? Contact your mobile provider.

Your Money:

While it’s obvious that a spammer sent an e-mail claiming to be a Nigerian widow seeking to transfer $10 million USD, sometimes things aren’t that clear. Identity theft isn’t a new crime in the US or abroad, but the methods used to access this data are ever changing.

New payment methods are coming to the forefront of the Data Privacy Discussions. Smart cards are now replacing credit cards. These new cards have chips that hold your account number and expiration date and a tiny radio antenna that allows the cardholder to send information to a retailer’s smart card reader.

There is some debate about how risky these cards actually are. Since the conventional credit card’s magnetic strip contains more information (such as your 3-digit security code), some say the risk of identity theft posed by smart cards is negligible in comparison. Others, however, recognize the risk of having your card scanned by a stranger – the smart card readers are available for purchase online. The card readers must be in very close proximity but they can read through a wallet, purse or pocket. Potential data thieves who use this method could only make purchases from vendors who don’t ask for more information such as your security code.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) cards have yet to replace the conventional payment methods of a credit card, so the smart chips are an additional source of data in addition to the magnetic strip and embossed numbers on the card. Ultimately it is up to each consumer to decide whether the benefits of waving rather than swiping are worth the potential threat.

New technology like the Google Wallet also allows you to ‘tap and pay,’ but with your smart phone instead of your credit card. With Near Field Communication (NFC), buyers can wave their phone in front of a scanner, similar to the RFID cards. The likelihood of this technology replacing our conventional payment methods is also up in the air. Some users express worry for having such important, personal data across many accounts and platforms all in one centralized device. Creators of Google Wallet claim their method to be safer than a credit card that’s simply swiped and signed, since Google Wallet is locked with a PIN.

Know Your Legal Rights:

Some privacy activists are campaigning for legislation to impose regulations on advertisers, app builders and other developers to improve privacy and transparency in their technology. Some current legislative issues include geotracking with mobile applications, and enforcing companies to write shorter privacy policies in more layman’s terms.

Protecting children’s online reputation has been a focus of the Federal Trade Commission for over a decade, and last year the Commission called for broader protection of privacy than their 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act currently ensures. The revision to expand the definition of Personal Data protected under the Act was proposed last September to include a child’s geolocation, facial recognition technology and personal data collected via cookies for targeted advertising purposes.

The formerly mentioned facial recognition technology brings privacy concerns for young and old. This growing technology enables facial features to serve as identifiers that could potentially be matched up with social media pictures or used for identification and accessing secure environments. Over the last two months the FTC has been hosting workshops and forums for feedback about what kind of regulation might be helpful in reducing privacy risks with this technology.

What can you do to help protect yourself?

  • Clean House – many institutions are changing the way they keep paper records with sensitive information, and you should too. Get rid of paper documents with account or social security numbers by shredding them. Also consider the sensitive data on your computer. It might be an antiquated machine requiring too much maintenance to be worth keeping, but the hard drive might still be accessible, and will put you at risk if it falls into the wrong hands. Learn how to dispose of your computer safely.
  • Know Before You ‘Go’ – Empower yourself by reading up on new technology and how it works. Don’t use features for mobile devices, payment methods or applications if you aren’t familiar with what kind of information they access. You might even decide that the convenience of an application or feature outweighs the privacy risk, if it is slight enough. Make that decision from an informed standpoint.
  • Security Savvy Shopping – Trust your instincts, along with the knowledge of what current scams are taking place, while making a purchase. Check your credit and debit cards for a RFID chip; then decide what security measures to take. Some consumers wrap their smart cards in aluminum foil. Wallets and sleeves with aluminum layers inside are also available for purchase. You can alternatively request a new card without the RFID technology.
  • Credit Monitoring – Following the steps to protect your sensitive information significantly lowers your risk, but it does not make you immune to data or identity theft. Early detection can be just as important as prevention. One way to detect problems early is by simply reviewing your credit report. You can get a free report at annually. The sooner you find something unfamiliar on your report, the easier it will be to resolve that inconsistency.

Want to Know More?

The Office of the Chief Information Officer provides more privacy tips on its Buckeye Secure site. Use this information to keep yourself, your family and our community safe throughout Data Privacy month and for the rest of 2012.

For more information on data security, contact Julie Talbot-Hubbard at or 614-292-7831.

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