Happy International Data Privacy Day!

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January 28, 2011 – Today is International Data Privacy Day (more details can be found at http://dataprivacyday2011.org/). This is a relatively new “international holiday” and the intention is to place focus on issues which are of increasing importance to our generation.

The day is about generating discussion around privacy, both for the sake of our personal security, and also to limit the powers of corporations to abuse our personal data. To celebrate this momentous day, we’ve put together a list of twelve things you can do to celebrate privacy in your home or office.

1. Update your (and your family’s) Facebook settings. Facebook’s settings change often and this makes it that much harder to keep profiles private. Facebook has faced criticism and lawsuits over this, as a result of sharing user data with 3rd parties without notification. They have settled these lawsuits out of court, but violating privacy is an essential part of their business model and they don’t mind paying out of court settlements to continue doing business. Endlessly altering account settings to ensure Facebook privacy is another chore that is easily forgotten. Data Privacy Day is the perfect time to go through Facebook settings, delete embarrassing photos, and maybe unfriend some of those corporate accounts you accidentally “liked” while browsing the Web. Don’t forget to help your parents out too; there’s a good chance your older family members could use some help with their Facebook settings.

2. Keep your family photos out of the public domain. Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, and now Microsoft have made our private photos public. With search capabilities digging deep into our hard-drives, and features like tagging and geo-tagging, family photos are slowly falling into the public domain and likely telling more of a story than we may have intended. Parents need to be particularly aware of the risks of posting and tagging their own children’s photos. A best practice for protecting children is to not tag and name your children on Facebook photos . You may even be inadvertently breaking the law if photos you’ve posted from your six year old’s birthday party include images of kids other than your own.

3. Learn and teach some Twitter etiquette. Yes, some people still don’t know how to use Twitter. Twitter is searchable…you did know that right? http://www.cio.com/article/480318/Twitter_Etiquette_Five_Dos_and_Don_ts_

4. Take note of you children’s’ online activities. While you are busy protecting yours, Data Privacy Day is a good day to violate your children’s privacy. For their own good, of course. Make sure you know where your kid’s have an online presence and that they understand the implications of putting their private information online. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Protect-your-Kids-Online/120124878014653

5. Clear cookies from your browser. Tracking cookies monitor web traffic and are legal so long as they are disclosed within the web privacy statement of the organization that delivers them. This Data Privacy Day go through your browser and clear all those cookies. Not only will you clear your footprints from advertiser radars, but you may speed up your browsing experience in the process.

6. Update anti-virus. Make sure all your home computers are running basic anti-virus software. If your subscription has expired there are many free options including Microsoft’s Security Essential http://www.microsoft.com/security_essentials/

7. Secure your home network, wireless router. Do you or someone you know still have an unprotected wireless network? Not only is this a privacy threat, but with changes to Internet billing (upload and download caps) you may be stuck with the fees for someone else’s surfing. Make sure to add some form of encryption and to change both your default passwords for router access and the default name of your router.

8. Change your PINs and Passwords. Most people use the same two or three passwords for everything, and have had them forever. If you’re one of those many individuals who has some variation on the same password for all your devices and accounts, Data Privacy Day is a good time to change them up. Given the degree of payment card fraud occurring in gas stations and secluded bank machines, changing your payment card PINs wouldn’t hurt either.

9. Password protect your mobile devices. Celebrate Data Privacy Day by activating password access to your phone. Access to smart phones could mean access to your banking information, e-mail accounts and Angry Birds high scores – nobody needs to know how much time you spend playing Angry Birds.

10. Destroy unnecessary documents. There’s a good chance you have documents at home that contain personally identifiable information that are simply unnecessary and no longer irrelevant. While corporations must retain financial information for the sake of legislation, most individuals do not need to save transaction records for nine years. Take this Data Privacy Day weekend and destroy any documents that you no longer need.

11. Know your rights. Privacy is your right! Before sharing personal information, make sure that it is required. Think twice about giving your home phone number and postal codes at retail outlets and don’t hesitate to request for supporting documentation when an institution asks for your grades, social insurance/security, health, or any other personal information. You probably have the law on your side.

12. BONUS ACTIVITY!!!! Protect against alien mind reading and abductions. It happens all too frequently, and the only way to keep your thoughts private when it comes to aliens is with foil helmets… If you can’t make your own, you can order one here: http://www.stopabductions.com/

Have a safe and happy Data Privacy Day!

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