BTC -The problem with data privacy is your ability to hang onto it is getting harder and harder. Last year we learned that almost every conventional Internet application and handheld device will leave behind a stream of data which leads back you, Jean Q. Public. You, being any number of marketing and logistics demographic information, of course. Businesses like Facebook became notorious for selling or just giving away your information to unnamed businesses and in some cases the FBI, for non-criminal matters.
Laws, like the ECPA, meant to protect your privacy in terms of your electronic communication pre-date the Internet. So, unless there’s an upgrade to digital due process, the information raids on your privacy will probably continue.
Here are 10 ideas on how to keep your data yours. The rule of thumb is that you should be able to opt-out of any online or digital service for violations of privacy.
2)Stop reporting everything you do from your web phone or handheld. (iPad, netbook, iPhone 4G) Location surveillance and call information is really really easy to poach or buy from your cell phone provider. Your mobile phone transmits location data about you directly to the web in most cases. Even crappy old phones leave bits of data laying around for snooping computers looking around for you. If you aren’t using your phone and you’re not expecting a call, take the battery out of your cell. It’s the best way to enforce your privacy on your own.
3)Shut off your electronic devices when you’re not using them. This interrupts the stream of data. The proverbial “they” in the unseen paranoid recesses of hackland cannot see you when you shut off your airport or unplug your internet or connection.
4)Contact your local, State and Federal leaders about digital privacy invasions which clearly violate your human right to common privacy. Sick of all the surveillance cameras? Don’t want a fusion center down the road from you? Do they want all of your identity and a blood sample before an approved purchase? If the TSA admin spent too much time checking out your backside on the X-Ray and then asked for a pat down too, it’s time to pick up a phone or a pen to squander the urge to get out the guns and the pitchforks. Seriously.
5)Stay informed of leaks, breaches or the sale of your personal information. Word search alerts will help you be better informed of issues with public and private data breaches. Poke around online for privacy journals. Computing and IT journals are also vigilant on information hacks and breaches. You can also subscribe to blogs like Slashdot, LossofPrivacy, BeatTheChip and PrivacyRights.org and others.
6)Meet the bullies in person ..or at least over the phone. When you are the victim of identity fraud or privacy abuses it will impact the company/corporation/government office if you contact them to let them know where you stand on how your information is being handled or mishandled. While it may be considered confrontational for you to do this, let them know they may be hearing from an attorney next. If a company feels so entitled to sell information about you without your consent, it’s okay to show them you are a real person vs. a data account for sale.
7)Limit your use of credit and debit card transactions. International banking policies are not going to be any nicer about keeping your transactional data private. US “know your customer” policies are deliberately intrusive with one sided protection of your information. You can look out for yourself by limiting the amount of debit and credit transactions, carrying more cash for necessary transactions and carrying through online purchase orders over the phone or via mail with checks, money orders or cashiers checks. It’s analog and slower, but it’s better for privacy. You might even discover buying with cash forces you into local shopping areas with one-of-a-kind stores, with unique finds you couldn’t get anywhere else. It’s worth exploring!
8)Look into existing privacy amenities. You can defend your privacy with existing tools on the market. Oftentimes, there are existing settings you may not be aware of in upgrades. Right now Google is trying out the Do Not Track list for users who do not want their browser histories made available for sale. Most big technology companies have privacy offices who deal with the public. They are usually very helpful, nice people. So don’t call them when you’re mad.
9)Find alternatives to allowing your body images to be recorded as digital information. There’s no easy way out. Companies and government offices seem to want a piece of you no matter where you go- so there is usually a digital record too. When they assume you should automatically give them a biometric or body identifier-like a fingerprint-you can ask for an alternative. If you get someone at the window who gets really demanding about this, you can opt-out or obfuscate the information they want. It’s not illegal…yet.
10) Don’t volunteer up private information to social networks, online gaming, the government, companies or anyone who doesn’t really care about your need for privacy. This is going to take some intestinal fortitude and more attention to detail to follow through with this. Sometimes you aren’t aware of what you are giving up when you sign up to win a hot car or when you visit doctors office and you are asked to fill out a survey. Only give the most focused and relevant information. Does the guy running a bread shop promotion need to know your age and what your natural hair color is? Does the dental office need to ask you about your mental health history? Does the post office need to know your place of employment? Not really. So don’t volunteer unless you really don’t care where that information goes. “Decline to state” or leaving a blank is an option too.
The strong point of privacy is that the intimidation and consequences are usually false or unenforceable. The costs to you are great. If your privacy is really valuable to you, trust yourself to look for alternatives to dealing with institutions and people who will put you and data about you in a compromised position in terms of your privacy.
This piece was done in conjunction with Data Privacy Day 2011