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Mindfulness and Privacy: Making Thoughtful Decisions About Sharing Personal Information Online

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“We can either use the technologies of our age or be used by them,” warns Wisdom 2.0. Use mindfulness to stay safe, sane and in control when sharing information online.

By Alexandra Ross (Senior Counsel, Paragon Legal)

Wisdom 2.0, which sponsors conferences that bring together technology leaders, Zen teachers, neuroscientists, and academics, asks: “How can we live with greater presence, meaning and mindfulness in the technology age?”

Every day we make choices regarding how we engage with technology and the personal information we share – be it online, on mobile apps or on social media. By applying the techniques of mindfulness practice, such as conscious awareness, we can make more informed decisions about personal privacy.

This requires paying particular attention to the privacy policies and privacy settings of the technologies we use and may include opting out of certain forms of online tracking. Each of us can also begin to cultivate personal opinions regarding what information is appropriate to share publicly.

Privacy Policies

Be a conscious consumer – take time to read the privacy policy provided within the technology you use. Key items to review include what personal information is collected (what is optional vs. required, provided by you — as in account creation — and what is collected automatically via cookies or the like); how personal information is used and shared; how your information is stored and kept secure; and your marketing preferences.

Evaluate any additional privacy notices such as prompts that ask you to “allow” geolocation tracking on your mobile device or grant permission to download a Facebook application. Set boundaries – if you don’t like the options, you can choose not to use the technology. Perform a cost/benefit analysis: is there sufficient value in the technology or a compelling experience that is worth “giving up” your personal information?

Privacy Settings

Many technologies and social media platforms offer privacy settings that allow you to control certain aspects of the user experience. Review them carefully and reset the default settings (which are often less user protective) if you so choose. For example, under “Privacy Settings and Tools,” Facebook allows you to set “who can see my stuff” (only me, friends, public, custom); “who can look me up” (friends, friends of friends or everyone); “who can add things to my Timeline”; and settings for ads and applications. On LinkedIn, under “Privacy Controls” you can “Turn on/off your activity broadcast” (controls who can see updates you make to your profile and the companies you follow); “Select what others see when you review their profile” (your full name and headline, anonymous profile characteristics or totally anonymous); “Select who can see your connections” (your connections, only you); and select the “Visibility of your profile photo” (connections, network or everyone) as well as take advantage of other privacy settings.

Opt Out Of Tracking and Behaviorally Targeted Ads

You may choose to protect your privacy by opting out of tracking so that data brokers and others cannot use your shopping history or web browsing activity to market to you. There are ad-on tools available that assist in this process including Ghostery, DoNotTrackMe and AdBlockPlusWithEasyPrivacyLists to name a few.

You can also directly opt of tracking by data brokers such as Acxiom, BlueKai, Epsilon and Datalogix by going to their respective sites. Or you can simply change the cookie settings on your browser so that cookies expire when you exit your browser and third party cookies are not allowed.

Social Media

Privacy is a relative concept on social media as well as a personal choice — based on your initial engagement, your circle of “friends” and what content you post about yourself and others. In the wonderfully ironic words of Eduardo Saverin (one of the original founders of Facebook), “I don’t like showing my privacy online.” It goes without saying that, for identity theft and safety reasons, it is not recommended to post sensitive personal information like credit card numbers, social security number, health conditions or prescription information. Rather than hoarding friends or being “attached” to your number of followers, be discerning. Limit your connections or use the settings that enable you to categorize friends and what personal posts they may view.

Be attentive to the consequences of “checking in” and divulging your location. Respect your standards of personal privacy and the privacy of others when you post content – photos, links to articles or videos, your “likes” and “comments” on others’ posts. Is it your ego talking or is the content you are posting “true, kind and helpful” (in the words of J. Krisnamurti, an Indian philisopher)? Be mindful of disclosing someone else’s personal information that they would prefer not to share publicly (such as an illness or family situation) or tagging others in compromising photos. Consider sharing your comment in a private message rather than on someone’s “wall.”

Wisdom 2.0 encourages an exploration of how to use technology in creative, rather than habitual ways and reminds us “we can either use the technologies of our age or be used by them.” As our tendency is to become distracted, it takes a certain amount of focus to use technology in a way that respects our standards of personal privacy. By making mindful decisions about sharing personal information online we take ownership of and responsibility for our privacy choices.

Women 2.0 readers: Are you as mindful as you should be about what you share online?

About the guest blogger: Alexandra Ross is Senior Counsel at Paragon Legal, working onsite at Autodesk, Inc. Previously, she managed privacy law and compliance as Associate General Counsel for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.  She is a certified information privacy professional and practices ecommerce and privacy law. 

Photo credit: RelaxingMusic via Flickr