How much information about you is freely available to strangers? How much access do you allow by means of Web sites and social networks to your interests and personal information? These are the types of questions Data Privacy Day encourages people to ask, as well as to value and take an active interest in protecting their privacy.

The annual event is an effort to empower people to protect their privacy and control their digital footprint and to draw attention to the protection of privacy and data as a priority for everyone. The Day began in the United States and Canada in January 2008, but has its roots in the Data Protection Day celebration in Europe, commemorating the signing in 1981 of Convention 108, the first legally binding international treaty that speaks to privacy and data protection. Today, with the far-reaching influence of the Internet, the issues that surround data privacy are more pervasive than ever before.

If you’ve ever had the uneasy feeling of being spied upon as you browse the Internet, if you’ve ever been bombarded with unsolicited emails or other advertisements, or if you have been the victim of identity theft, you already know some of the potential consequences of privacy infringements. From online threats such as spyware, viruses, and other forms of malware to the outright physical theft of personal data devices that can contain all manner of personal information, protecting your data privacy means being vigilant with both your virtual and your real valuables.

According to the recently released results of a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults commissioned by Microsoft, many people believe they have little to no control about how their data may be collected by online companies.

Some of the points gleaned from the study include:

• Forty-five percent said they feel they have little or no control over the personal information companies gather about them while they are browsing the Web or using online services, such as photo-sharing, travel or gaming.

• Four in 10 said they feel they totally or mostly understand how to protect their online privacy.

• An equal number of people (39 percent) said they are turning to friends and family, as well as company privacy statements, as their top source for privacy information.

• A third of those surveyed (32 percent) said they are paying attention to companies’ privacy reputations, track records and policies when choosing which websites to visit or services to use.

(Source: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/press/2013/jan13/01-23DPDPR.aspx)

Fortunately, there is much that can be done to protect one’s personal data privacy.

Some tips from StaySafeOnline.com include:

  • Keeping security software current: Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats.
  • Automating software updates: Many software programs will automatically connect and update to defend against known risks. Turn on automatic updates if the option is available.
  • Protecting all devices that connect to the Internet: Along with computers, smart phones, gaming systems, and other web-enabled devices also need protection from viruses and malware.
  • Securing your accounts: Ask for protection beyond passwords. Many account providers now offer additional ways for you verify who you are before you conduct business on that site.
  • Making passwords long and strong: Combine capital and lowercase letters with numbers and symbols to create a more secure password.
  • Having unique accounts and unique passwords: Separate passwords for every account helps to thwart cybercriminals.
  • Storing passwords and logins in safe, secure place away from a computer
  • Owning your online presence: When available, set the privacy and security settings on websites to your comfort level for information sharing.
  • Getting savvy about Wi-Fi hotspots: Limit the type of business you conduct and adjust the security settings on your device to limit who can access your machine.
  • Protecting your money: When banking and shopping, check to be sure the sites is security enabled. Look for web addresses with “https://” or “shttp://”, which means the site takes extra measures to help secure your information. The “http://” designation, for example, is not secure.
  • Staying current. Keep pace with new ways to stay safe online: Check trusted websites for the latest information, and share with friends, family, and colleagues and encourage them to be web wise.
  • Thinking before you act: Be wary of communications that implore you to act immediately, offers something that sounds too good to be true, or asks for personal information.
  • Backing up data: Protect your valuable work, music, photos, and other digital information by making an electronic copy and storing it safely.

While Data Privacy Day aims to draw attention to the issues of information privacy and cyber security by by means of a single day’s event, the real takeaway message is for data privacy to be an everyday concern that we all share. Pondurance is proud to be a StaySafeOnline.org Champion of Data Privacy Day.