Data protection has undoubtedly been a hot button topic in the first half of 2018, and for good reason. With Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg's recent data mining scandal, consumers have become hyper aware of their privacy online. Have you ever purchased a product online and then immediately seen ads for that very product in your Instagram and Facebook feed? It's a bit unsettling, right? But is it wrong for businesses to usethis data to inform their advertising strategies? It's a question of ethics many businesses have never had to contend with until now.
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What Does Data Privacy Look Like?
The first thing to note is that data privacy is not the same as data protection. According to Tech Target, data privacy refers to, "the ability an organization or individual has to determine what data in a computer system can be shared with third parties." Where as data protection is simply the, "process of safeguarding important information from corruption or loss."
With the development of consumer electronics like Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and countless other smart devices, how do you know if your data is being shared? And with whom? Also, is it ethical for companies to use your data without your knowledge? These are all complex and fascinating questions new to American society. We have not grappled with things like this until very recently and the laws are still being fine tuned.
Facebook recently took a huge leap in this conversation by adding a new feature to their platform called, "protecting your information." This is a link users can find through their account that allows you to see specifically what data is being shared with other sites or apps and give users the option to turn it off.
Other companies are expected to follow suit as awareness and concern for data privacy increases.
The Nitty Gritty: Privacy Law Basics
Data privacy laws vary widely from country to country. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing exclusively on laws in the US. First, it's important to note that contrary to popular belief, it's actually not illegal for companies to engage in what's called "data retention." This is when companies or organizations collect data on what websites you visited, what kinds of purchases you made, and what kinds of queries you searched. This helps businesses tailor their advertising efforts to reach the right consumers that they think might be interested in their product based on this data. This can be used for good or evil, and that's where things get tricky. It's a controversial practice, but it is legal.
What's not legal are things like businesses sharing private health information about employees, improper disposal or sharing of credit reports, and selling of consumer data online.
To read more about the specific data privacy laws that are in place in the US, refer to the following links:
Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act)
Fair Credit Reporting Act ( FCR Act)
FTC Disposal Rule
How Can You Protect Your Data?
We live in an age of technology, so living entirely off the grid is no easy feat. However, there are a few actionable steps you can take to protect your identity and your data online.
First and foremost, be aware of your data trail. Every time you download an app and tap the button that says, "share location", or "share information, you're giving that entitypermission to access your information. So do your research and make sure it's an organization you trust. And of course, always regularly delete your cookies.
Secondly, and this may seem obvious, but secure all of your devices and use strong passwords. Using your birthday as a password for everything online is a great way to invite hackers to steal information. Instead, use an app like Last Pass to generate and store complex strong passwords for all of your various accounts.
Lastly, take extra precaution when using public WiFi. Never do your online banking in a coffee shop or even on your work computer. Because it's public, theres no way to know how secure the connection is or who else is accessing that network.
Data privacy laws are new territory for a lot of organizations to navigate. But it's 2018 and the internet is evolving almost daily. As a business owner, it's crucial to the success of your business that you know which data sharing practices are legal. However, its also the consumers responsibility to secure their data that they do not want shared with the public.
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