A young woman looks at her smartphone while sitting in an urban park.

With smartphones, iPads, laptops and personal computers, many of us are almost constantly online. Is your information protected?

Understanding how to protect your personal information online is essential in today’s wired world. Mihaylo ISDS Professor Ofir Turel discusses strategies for staying safe for National Data Privacy Day.

If you are like most college students, then you’re online for a significant portion of your day.  Whether you’re signing up for classes, looking to buy a discounted course book, or just chatting with friends on Facebook, much of your daily life is lived online.  According to Nielsen’s Total Audience Report, American adults use electronic media on average more than 11 hours per day. Digital media provides unprecedented opportunities for communication, shopping, research and entertainment, but it also raises a multitude of privacy concerns.

Your Personal Information May Be At Risk

The downside to living so much of your life online is that there are many ways your personal and financial information can be made available to people if they are interested in finding it.  It’s important to protect yourself.  Below, we offer a few tips on how to get started.

“Many users care about their privacy but fail to take proactive steps to maintain it,” says Ofir Turel, professor of information systems and decision sciences at Cal State Fullerton’s Mihaylo College of Business and Economics.

To increase awareness of the need for online privacy, in 2014 the U.S. Congress designated January 28 as the annual National Data Privacy Day.

Chains and a padlock represent the protection necessary to secure your information in today's digital world.“This is a good day to reflect on the level of privacy that you would like to have and how you can achieve it,” Turel says. “Any irresponsible thing you do today will be on Facebook tomorrow and will stay there forever, so you need to be careful.”

Here are a few things you can to do to protect yourself online:

  • Think twice before posting something to your Facebook or Instagram account or even when sending an email, since your digital profile will stay with you forever.  Did you know that once you send an email, it becomes public information?
  • Check your privacy settings on your social networks (such as Facebook or LinkedIn) and Google, as settings and policies are regularly updated. One Consumer Reports study revealed that 13 million U.S. Facebook users did not use the site’s privacy settings, some not even aware of their ability to control their personal information. This means that any Facebook post you create, even if only intended for friends and acquaintances, becomes available to anyone who has access to the Internet.
  • Learn how your information is being used by checking the privacy policies of websites you use for social networking or shopping. Many organizations permit users to opt-out of information sharing, for example.
  • Never click on a link in an email that you don’t completely trust.  Delete spam emails or messages, since the links are often insecure and can compromise your privacy and security.  This is one of the most common ways that computer viruses spread, a serious concern considering that 30% of U.S. households are estimated to be impacted by some form of malware.  If you are unsure of an email or a link, hover your cursor over the email address the email is from and you will often see what looks to be a spammy email address, even though the email may look like it’s been sent from Amazon or Paypal.  Always be certain a link is legit before you click it.
  • Only share financial data on secure websites that have “HTTPS” designation, which ensures the security of the data you share. This is displayed in the address bar of your browser
  • Narrow down the sites that contain your credit or debit card information.  Consider using only a few trustworthy sites for your online activities. It makes it easier to stay abreast of your privacy and security, and it helps simplify your life.

If you start to incorporate smart online habits into your daily life, you will be much safer from any of the problems that can arise from having your data stolen.  It just takes a little bit of effort.

For more on data privacy, visit the National Cyber Security Alliance online.

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