January brought us that most sacred of holidays, Data Privacy Day on January 28th. Ok, maybe it’s not sacred, or technically even a holiday, but these days one might be wise to treat it as if it were. Treating data privacy with the utmost seriousness can save you a lot of grief. It’s one of those things that might not matter until it matters – but when it does a data breach can mean months of frustration or even a serious financial setback.
These days, your data is big business. And your data is all over the place. And the bigger your estate, the fatter your portfolio and the larger your credit limit, the bigger business you are.
Most people sling around all sorts of personal information between social media, paying for everything online, and maintaining electronic accounts everywhere. This poses two big problems for the consumer.
First, companies sell your data to 3rd parties for a tidy profit. That means that it’s not just the company you gave it to that has your data, but anyone they then resold it to. If you’ve ever googled a product and then got bombarded by related ads on every subsequent website you visited, you know what we mean.
Secondly, it means that e-commerce and your related data is a big, juicy target for hackers. Data breaches at companies have become so routine it’s hard to pay attention to, with affected consumers reaching astronomical proportions. And it could be anyone. In 2018 alone, companies like Marriott, T-Mobile, Quora, Google and Orbitz (and they’re just the tip of the iceberg) had breaches that compromised the personal information of over 600 million customers.
Something that might seem inconsequential or routine to you – like that hotel you stayed on vacation or paying your cell phone bill, might be exploited by the online forces of evil if data security isn’t a prime concern.
So what can you do about it? There’s plenty of little things that you as the consumer can do. You probably can’t be perfect, as with the way online commerce has expanded you’ll often have to hope that the companies you patronize take your data’s security as seriously as you do – but you can prevent a lot of the worst possibilities on your end.
- Be careful about the type of personal information you make available on social media. Many hacks of financial information get only part of the picture – like a credit card or bank account number – but still need personal information to complete an identity theft. If that information, like your birthday or address, is readily available on social media, hackers can much more easily complete a theft. Think about not posting information that can be used to verify identity in an online financial transaction. And avoid those Facebook Challenges (the ones that ask for information like your mother’s maiden name) – they’re often a means for hackers to gain that personal information.
- Think about getting some insurance. If all else fails, and because consumers are so reliant on the data protection efforts of the multitude of companies out there, it would be wise to take advantage of any additional privacy protections your financial institution might offer, or those of a third party. These can often detect a budding identity theft and stop it before it spirals out of control.