3 Steps To Set Your Privacy Intentions for 2014

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It’s never been more crucial to protect your privacy online: here are three simple ways to stay safe.

By Alexandra Ross (Founder, The Privacy Guru)

Mobile apps, social media and websites are constantly changing and revising their privacy policies and settings. In order to keep pace with modern technology, we need to upgrade our privacy awareness at the same rate. However, we may feel ill-equipped to make conscious decisions about our privacy.

The New Year is the perfect time to set your privacy intentions. I have a three-step approach for making mindful choices about how we allow our personal information to be collected, used and shared. From cultivating your awareness to developing a privacy practice, you’ll be better prepared to act on your privacy intentions and enjoy your privacy your way.

Cultivate Your Privacy Awareness

At the core of privacy awareness is a basic understanding of the concepts of privacy and data security. A crucial component of privacy awareness is comprehending the value of privacy and why it matters.

Learn to become literate in the language of the information economy. As you expand your knowledge of privacy issues, you will be able to make deliberate decisions and communicate your privacy choices. Once you have become a more informed consumer and citizen, you will demand that your privacy be respected.

Privacy awareness includes:

Tuning into public stories about privacy

Privacy is in the news everyday, whether it’s the newest connected device at CES, the latest revelation over NSA surveillance, the Snapchat user data leak, or Target’s massive data breach. Spend some time reading the coverage in the major news publications to glean noteworthy information and deepen your understanding of privacy and technology issues.

Following privacy experts

Technology blogs almost always have journalists dedicated to monitoring and interpreting developments in information security and privacy law. Keep up with privacy experts from academia, business and the non-profit world as they share their opinions and insights on social media. On Twitter, look for the hashtags #privacy, #cybersecurity and #databreach.

Engaging in discussions about privacy

Talk with others about their feelings about privacy and data security. Talk across domains: Colleagues, friends, and family. Get the perspective of older generations and connect with your kids about the importance of privacy. Your own perspective may change based on the information and opinions you take in.

Awareness is the key that leads to Step Two in the journey: Defining your personal privacy values. 

Reflect on Your Personal Privacy Values

Privacy is personal and means different things to each of us individually. Our opinions of what information should remain private may vary widely based on our values and experiences. Look within to understand why privacy is important to you. Use the following exercises to help tune in to your values around personal privacy:

Think of all the instances when you have been asked to provide your personal information

Examples might be when you purchase a product or service or download a “free” mobile app. What information was optional and what was required? Did you use a social sign on feature in lieu of creating a new login account?

Consider the various scenarios where you may feel a greater or lesser need for privacy

Our ideas about privacy and our willingness to share our personal information depend on context and trust. Do you share different content via your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, for example.

Rank aspects of your personal information in their order of importance to you

This might include name, email address, social security number, personal cell phone number, prescription information, and personal photos.

Recall reactions you’ve had to content others have shared on social media

Would you share the same? What has struck you as inappropriate? Why?

Notice your reaction to social media and their evolving features

How does the real-time nature of Twitter make you feel? What about Instagram’s photo-centric focus? Are you comfortable with hash-tagging your shared content, tagging yourself in photos or checking in and adding your geo-location to posts?

When you have cultivated an awareness and reflected on your personal privacy values, you can apply them in Step Three: a privacy practice.

Develop Your Privacy Practice

Privacy isn’t dead unless we let it die. We don’t have to let companies or authorities take advantage of us in ways that aren’t consensual, out of context, or surprising to us. A privacy practice means aligning your behavior with your awareness and your values. The result is the integration of mindful privacy choices as your regular tendency. No longer will you share out of reflex: privacy practices put you in control.

Crossing a street safely is one of the fundamental lessons we teach our children. Stop, look, and listen! It’s a basic skill that keeps us safe throughout our lives. In the same way, you can keep your online life safe and sane. Here’s a simple privacy practice so that it tracks the advice to see clearly:

Stop

Focus your awareness on the choice you’re being asked to make about sharing your personal information. What is your emotional state at the moment? Are you multitasking, feeling anxious, stressed or numb or are you feeling focused and grounded?

Evaluate

Assess the context and if you have a basis for trusting how your information will be used. What information are you being asked to input? How will it be shared and stored? (You might need to read a privacy policy or review certain privacy setting before making a decision.) Does it seem like the requested information is excessive or beyond the requirements for providing the service? What might be the consequences if your information is not respected and protected?

Enter

Make a conscious choice. Interacting online often comes with a feeling of urgency. With forms and registrations we don’t want to lose our progress (or are in a hurry to use the service), and with social media we feel a social pressure to comment, keep-up, and engage or suffer the Fear Of Missing Out. You don’t have to let it be that way. Remember you’re the work you did to establish your awareness and define your values and act accordingly.

Bonus Privacy Practices to De-clutter Your Apps and Social Media

To really keep your privacy in good shape incorporate the following:

  • Delete apps that no longer serve you or have privacy policies inconsistent with your values.
  • Review privacy settings and permissions on apps and social media platforms periodically to see if they’ve changed.
  • Slim down your contacts on social media, removing those who seem inappropriate given the context of the service or network.
  • Opt out of email newsletters you no longer wish to receive. Certain services like unroll.me can make this process more convenient and transparent.

This is the year to set your privacy intentions and become empowered to make more thoughtful and informed choices about your privacy. So what are you waiting for? Share mindfully and attach the significance your privacy deserves.

Has your privacy ever been invaded online?

headshotAbout the guest blogger. Alexandra Ross is the founder of The Privacy Guru (www.theprivacyguru.com) and Senior Counsel at Paragon Legal, working onsite at Autodesk, Inc. She is a certified information privacy professional and practices ecommerce and privacy law. Follow her on Twitter @sharemindfully