How to Protect Your Personally Identifiable Information Online?
Keeping personally identifiable information, or PII, safe is a nagging concern for people of all ages. A data breach can trigger unimaginable damage: it could strip away your privacy and expose you to frauds and scams. You could even face cyber harassment, from stalking to extortion.
The problem is, there are many ways your PII could become vulnerable to threats. But often, all it would take to keep it secure is just a few simple steps. And in this guide, we’ve made it even easier for you to protect personal information and remain safe online.
Understanding personally identifiable information
So, what comes to your mind when you think of identifiable data? For many people, it’s their full name, social security number (SSN), and date of birth. This may have been so a few decades back. But today, your entire data footprint could serve as identification material.
There are many details unique to you, from your phone number and account passwords to the IP addresses of your devices. Even biometric information like fingerprints and facial data is frequently in use now, especially as personal credentials. This broad classification of identifiable data naturally increases your risk of exposure.
But who’s after your information? The truth is, the internet is fraught with individuals constantly casting hooks to grab hold of your data, sometimes by tricking you, at times by force.
Without even realizing it, you’re sharing data with online platforms such as social media, news websites, online retailers, dating apps, and streaming sites. And chances are, they are sharing them with third parties, too.
Then there are advertisers, marketers, data brokers, cybercriminals, and others who are also after your identifiable information. In today’s data economy, personal data in any form could provide lucrative opportunities to make money for these individuals.
But how can this information reach outsiders?
On average, Americans spend 2 hours and 24 minuteson social media each day. For many people, these platforms are perhaps the number one means of divulging what should ideally remain private. They’ve become a breeding ground for oversharing as most users struggle to separate what’s personal and may potentially put them in danger. The fact is, what may seem like harmless posts of your recent family holiday or those of your high school yearbook could compromise your online privacy in surprising ways.
The perils of oversharing on social media have even caught the attention of government and law enforcement agencies. The FBI and the FTC, for instance, have issued numerous warnings over the past few months against posting photos of COVID-19 vaccination cards. These contain names, dates of birth, and other sensitive information that could compromise your identity.
But contrary to popular belief, data tracking is not just limited to the voluntary sharing of specific information. There are far more ways you can unwittingly jeopardize your online safety. For example, even the apps you download could be collecting information like your location details and contact lists. And websites could be tracking identifiable data, too, from your IP address to what you do on their sites. They can plant cookies on your browser and may even track your activities outside their websites.
You could also be sharing too much data with your browser. It’s likely collecting your online searches and a range of other information that could compromise your privacy. Even wearables like your smartwatch collect personal data such as your heart rate, breathing patterns, and sleeping habits.
The fact is, with all the digital devices in use today, you’re likely connected to the internet even when you’re asleep. As a result, your activities are constantly under the scrutiny of data collectors. And they’re working around the clock to make sure they’ve got every possible piece of information about you.
Now, apart from all these, you can also face hacking attacks. Cybercriminals could use phishing scams, malware campaigns, and third-party data breaches to access identifiable information by force.
Strengthening data security
So, how can you ensure data security and a safe online experience? Here are some essential steps to adopt.
Minimize sharing. When in doubt, just retreat and avoid sharing altogether. It’ll be a far better option, considering the hassles of getting it deleted later on.
Be mindful of your devices. Keep track of all your device interactions, from your phone to smart home devices.
Review privacy settings and policies. Go through privacy settings on your online accounts, apps, and devices and remove any consent to track, collect, and share data. Review data privacy policies to understand how information is handled and treated.
Evade online tracking. Delete cookies and browser histories to avoid tracking. A VPN is another critical option to keep your online activities anonymous.
Close down online accounts. Minimizing account sign-ups and deleting accounts you’ve already set up is another essential step to curb data access.
Avoid freebies. Organizations can devise various tactics to collect personal information. For example, they could use free offers, gifts, and discounts in exchange for your identifiable details.
Guard against breaches. Adopt robust and secure passwords for online accounts, devices, and files. Set up malware protection with reputed anti-virus software. Be wary of phishing scams and malicious websites, links, and downloads.
But there’s good news: many of these data-sharing habits could be reversed or corrected. You can even evade data breaches to a large extent with sufficient security measures. So, start assessing what information you share with a better understanding of the potential risks. And adopt strong security hygiene to protect your identity and privacy online.