The security of personal data in the hands of private companies has been a hotly debated topic in recent years. Many states have enacted data privacy laws that protect their residents by requiring companies to be more responsible for the personal data they gather and store. Beyond trusting that companies will protect your personal data, there are some things you can do to further protect your privacy. Here, we discuss four ways for you to take data protection into your own hands, and a fifth way that uses privacy laws to get companies to delete your personal information from their systems.
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What is personal data?
If you do a quick internet search for your name or any other identifiers, you may be surprised at the amount of information you are able to easily find. First to appear is likely any social media profile of yours, next are probably pages of data brokers that gather information from public records for their databases.
Personal data generally includes anything that can be used to identify someone. This includes:
- phone numbers
- inferences drawn from collected data
Given how much personal data is already out there, what can be done to protect your privacy and hopefully secure your personal and financial accounts? Here are five ways to protect your personal data in 2021.
Limit your risk and protect your data on social media
Many of us use social media platforms as a way to stay connected with family and friends. We share our private information willingly because we believe that only trusted individuals have access to it. That’s only true if you’ve tweaked your privacy settings to reflect the level of personal privacy you want.
Check the privacy settings for each of your social media accounts to make sure that these settings filter out broader audiences. You might consider only allowing friends and family to see the information in your account. You might also consider limiting the information in your profiles by not including your current address, birthdate, age, birthplace, email address, phone number, profession, employer, and places you went to school. Why? Because this information is often used in phishing attacks that are designed to gain your trust, with the ultimate goal of cheating or stealing from you.
Update your apps and software to the latest versions
Updating software takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. People who routinely allow multiple updates to pass by without action are leaving themselves vulnerable to cyber attacks. That’s because software developers are constantly improving their software to protect customers against newly discovered vulnerabilities, in addition to making the software better and easier to use.
Some applications come with an option to automatically update to the latest version. This might be a good option for you if you find yourself routinely putting off manual updates.
Use a password manager
Nothing beats a solid password, and by “solid password,” we don’t mean the kind that you can easily remember. Those are usually weak passwords. Strong passwords are long strings of random upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. The kind that are not easily remembered.
If you have a large number of online accounts, you might consider using a password manager. Password managers can generate strong passwords and securely store them for you to use later. Using a password manager encourages people to make strong passwords and to not repeat passwords across different accounts, a practice that makes more than just the one account vulnerable to attack.
Check your credit report
You hear this often, and it bears repeating here. Check your credit report at least once a year. If your financial accounts have been compromised, your credit report may be the only place you’ll find out about it. It will also be one of the places hardest hit by identity theft.
If you find that your credit accounts have been hacked, use these Identity Theft documents to notify the proper authorities and get back on track. You can even use a Credit Freeze Request to freeze your credit accounts. This will keep thieves from opening new accounts in your name and then running up charges on these unauthorized credit cards.
Send companies a request to remove personal information
Many companies are now required to carefully handle personal data they’ve collected from individuals. Some state and international laws require that companies notify you when they are collecting your personal information. These companies must also provide a clear way for you to opt out of having your data collected and also a way for you to have your data deleted.
Remember the internet search we talked about earlier under Personal Data? If you do not like the information found during this search, you can send the owners of each of the sites showing your information a request to have your personal data deleted. You can send a request to remove personal information to any company that you believe has collected and stored your personal information.
States that have data privacy laws, like the California Consumer Privacy Act, require companies to disclose the steps necessary to request that your data be deleted and the appropriate parties to contact with your request. If you do not live in a state with data privacy protections, you can still ask a company to remove your personal information from their systems. While they may not be required to do so, they might have a process already in place, and all you have to do is find out who and how to ask for the removal of your data.
Check out our recent blog on how to avoid and handle identity theft during the holiday season. Reach out to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney if you have questions about credit card transactions or other legal concerns.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.