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It Takes a Village to Protect Your Privacy

Let's celebrate Data Privacy Day by modeling good privacy practices for kids.

Girard Kelly | January 28, 2020

This is posted on behalf of our spring 2020 privacy intern, Taylor Deitrick.

A big topic in the news today is digital surveillance, with multiple news articles "unmasking" what companies are doing with your personal information. In the digital age, children are growing up in an era that enables them to share every aspect of their lives from their fingertips. Growing up in a privacy-aware household, enabled me to not only understand the importance of my personal information but consider what my information would be used for. The importance of keeping your personal information private is not a conversation that parents should have at a later date with their teens. New privacy laws are being implemented and an increasing number of companies are starting to use their positive privacy practices as a selling point. With privacy concerns popping up in all areas of life, the question of who should be responsible for keeping your personal information private lingers in the background. However, not just one party should be held responsible in the digital age -- it takes a village to protect your privacy. In this article, we will highlight just a few things that you can do to protect your privacy, and the support organizations and the government provide. 

Individuals: When it comes to protecting your privacy here are a few quick and easy steps that can be done today.

  1. Have a strong password. While it's easy to use the same password (yes, the same one that you've been using since signing up for your first account) for everything, this actually puts your privacy at risk. Easy to remember might be convenient for the time being, but could cause trouble in the long run. Instead, make it a goal to change or reset your passwords. When resetting your passwords, use passphrases (a sequence of words) for added security. To create strong passwords using a password manager is a beneficial tool to help assist in generating a complex password that can be stored in an encrypted database.
  2. Look at and set your preferred privacy settings. You're already spending time on the platform, why not take a little time looking at the settings?  When going through the privacy settings be sure to consider what information you're willing to provide and to whom. This allows you to know what information you might be sharing and lets you take some control over your information.
  3. Delete services you're no longer using. Now it might seem hard to remember a service you're not using, but it can be as easy as seeing an email from a store or app you no longer using and taking a few minutes to go in and delete your account (this is different than just deleting an app). Also, be sure to check the privacy policy to know what happens to your private information after deletion. While deleting data will help keep your information private, it also has the added bonus of limiting the number of notifications you'll receive. 

While taking these few steps can help you protect your privacy, being informed about your rights and taking the extra step to be privacy-aware will not only be beneficial but even empowering.  Different sectors have different requirements about your rights to protect your personal information so some additional information might be needed.  

Educational institutions: Personal information is not only gathered in the context of consumer goods and services. Educational institutions collect information pertaining to students, from basic contact information to test scores and disciplinary reports.  However, there are regulations in place to keep student records private. For instance, FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) is a federal law that governs the access to educational records. Below are some of the rights you may have to protect your educational records:

  • Right to access and review: Request and view your educational records.
  • Dispute errors/Request amendments: Request the record to be corrected from errors.
  • Disclosure: Generally, you must give consent to the access of your information, and in some instances, you can opt-out of the disclosure.

Companies/Organizations: Recently, more companies have been using privacy as a marketing and monetization tool. They have recognized that their consumers want to interact with companies that focus on protecting consumer privacy and make it a priority. And while companies have to comply with legal regulations, many have made their privacy practices an incentive for consumers to utilize their products or services. Companies, such as Apple and Microsoft, are making their privacy practices known by running ad campaigns to bring awareness to their value of consumer privacy. To learn more about companies' privacy practices, read through pop-up notifications and privacy policies.  

Pop-up notifications: Some websites will immediately prompt users with a pop-up notification about the presence of a cookie and offer an option to opt-out. Make sure to not quickly click out of the pop-up without reading it, because it provides important information and gives the user the ability to consent before their data is handled. Generally, if the consumer does not consent you may not be able to utilize all the features of the service. 

Privacy policies: A privacy policy provides insight into some of the ways the company collects, uses, discloses, and manages a consumer's data. Hopefully, the privacy policy gives consumers a more transparent look as to what a company is doing with your personal data. 

Government: With an increased focus on privacy, the government plays an important role as both a venue for new legislation and for the enforcement of privacy legislation already in place. Additionally, consumer data from a company can often end up in the hands up the government without a warrant.  For instance, Ring has a partnership with over 600 police forces across the country which provides them access to surveillance without a warrant, only a case number.

Advocates: There has been an increase in proposed privacy legislation at both the state and federal level. While individuals and companies can also be advocates for supporting legislation, it is also important for representatives to better understand privacy in order to be advocates for new privacy legislation and to and inform their constituents about the importance of privacy.

Enforcement: While some privacy laws enable private rights of action (which allows consumers to sue companies), others require government agencies to investigate potential violations.  Depending on the law and the agency's jurisdiction, this can be done by opening an investigation after someone has filed a complaint or independently. 

Everyone, working together, can protect personal privacy. It's your responsibility to take actions to protect your privacy, but no individual working alone can protect their privacy in this age of digital collection of personal information. By establishing the roles of each of these groups towards protecting privacy, it makes it possible to keep more personal information private. 

* Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic photo by Stewart Black.