Data Privacy Concerns: An Overview for 2019

By Rhonda Bradley / 12 March 2019

Discover what you need to know to keep your personal data safe in 2019.

More than 40% of people worldwide feel they lack control over their personal data, according to a survey by McAfee, and one-third of parents don’t know how to explain online security risks to their children.

McAfee survey graphic

Last year, major corporations such as Facebook, Panera Bread, and the Sacramento Bee experienced data breaches that put tens of millions of personal records into the hands of criminals. 

These breaches are only the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to hacked accounts and stolen data. Consumers are beginning to take notice.

As terms such as crypto-ransomware, crypto-mining, and banking Trojans make their way into the mainstream, data privacy concerns among people in the U.S. are hitting an all-time high.

In this article, we’ll explain what you need to understand about data privacy in 2019 and share some tips for keeping your personal information safe.

What is Personal Data?

The term “personal data” refers to all personal information that’s used to identify a person. The best-known types of personal data include: 

  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Credit card information
  • Birthdate
  • Social security number

However, your personal data isn’t limited to traditional letter-and-number-based information.

Moving into 2019, personal security also means exercising caution in other areas that may pose a risk. For example, facial and voice recognition can also be used to breach your personal security.

Why Do People Need to Understand Data Protection?

Nearly every transaction you make (online or offline) involves handing over some form of personal data. 

Whether you’re making an in-store purchase at Target, taking a rideshare service like Uber, or exchanging your email address for a promo code, you take risks with your data privacy every day. Even your home address is “data” that people see every time they drive by your house. 

Everyone should understand the basics of data privacy and learn how to protect themselves. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that data protection laws will keep you safe. 

Laws are only useful in dealing with law-abiding citizens, and criminal activity often originates outside the U.S. 

Many of the laws that exist or are currently being passed apply to how companies handle data security. These laws can increase the safety of your personal information, but can never guarantee protection from malicious attacks.

What Happens If Your Data Gets In The Wrong Hands?

While identity theft is a common concern, it’s not the only risk your personal data faces. 

There’s a lucrative black market for data, and hackers often sell information in bulk to professional scammers. 

Once a scammer obtains your personal information, there are many ways they can use it to infiltrate your personal and professional life, such as:

  • Overwhelm you with robocalls and emails in an attempt to scam you out of more information.
  • Attempt to break into your social media accounts and gain access to information about your family and friends.
  • Obtain private information about your company or business.
  • Access your bank or utility accounts.

For example, if a scammer obtains your name and email address, they can follow up by overloading you with email or phone scams. 

These type of communications attempt to trick you into sharing more information, or even recorded voice commands, that offer access to more of your personal data.

Why You Can’t Trust Companies to Protect Your Private Data

In 2016, two hackers were able to access data from ride-sharing company Uber by breaking into one of the company’s third-party cloud services.

The personal information of 57 million Uber users (including names, email addresses, and mobile phone numbers) was breached, along with the names and driver’s license numbers of over a half million Uber drivers.

Instead of disclosing the privacy breach, Uber paid the hacker $100,000 to delete the data.

Uber didn’t disclose the privacy breach until a year later. As a result, it was recently ordered to pay $148 million in damages.

Uber New York Times article screenshot

Uber’s isn’t a unique story.

In March 2018, Google discovered a bug in its Google Plus API that was allowing third-party developers to access the personal data of millions of Google Plus users.

Google scandal article screenshot

Instead of informing its users so they could take steps to protect themselves, Google kept it a secret for over a year.

Facebook also faced a data mishap with a design flaw that granted Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, access to millions of users’ private Facebook data

Facebook scandal article screenshot

Facebook kept the breach private, and the public didn’t find out until a whistleblower from Cambridge Analytica stepped forward more than two years later.

While the implementation of sweeping regulations like GDPR (for EU citizens) bodes well for data security, you still can’t trust companies to always follow the rules.

The lack of regulation and disclosure on the part of trusted companies like Uber, Google, and Facebook proves that users must take personal data security into their own hands.

Learn how developers can improve mobile app security.

How To Protect Your Data in an Increasingly Connected World

Here are some tips to help you keep your data safe from hackers, scammers, and crooks.

How to protect your devices:

  • Use passwords for all your devices; phones, tablets, and computers.
  • Use strong passwords and change them regularly.
  • Never use the same password twice.
  • Check your privacy and sharing settings on all social media accounts - and review them regularly.
  • Avoid free WiFi services
  • Password protect your WiFi
  • Close inactive online accounts
  • Understand how devices may be tracking your location

How to protect your data at home:

  • Use a locking mailbox
  • Destroy paper documents before putting them in the recycle bin.
  • Consider I.D. theft insurance
  • Beware ridesharing apps: read reviews and examine privacy policies before installing a rideshare app.
  • Understand the risks of using digital personal assistants (like Alexa) before choosing to bring one into your home.

How to protect yourself from email and phone scammers:

  • Understand how robocalls and phone/emails scams work so you can avoid accidentally revealing private data to scammers.

Understand Data Privacy to Protect Yourself

Data security can seem so hard to understand that some people avoid online purchases or social media altogether. 

However, avoiding sites like Facebook and Amazon won’t keep you safe from thieves whose sole purpose is to steal information.

The best defense you have is to keep yourself informed. Understanding the latest scams and trending security measures can go a long way toward keeping your personal data secure.

While you may never be 100% protected against scammers, you can significantly decrease your chances of intrusion by making an effort to stay informed and following the latest recommended safety tips.

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