Let’s talk about information! We know that information is money. After all, information – or data – is a multi-billion dollar industry. That’s right! Information that we provide via our social media, updates we post, pictures and videos we share, places we check in to, online searches, websites we visit, links we click on, apps and smart devices we use, locations we share, permissions we grant, and so much more is being sold over and over again for a profit. Some of this is for good to improve the services provided to us. But, because this information has value, there are also people and organizations that want to steal our information and sell it for the not-so-good purposes.
Have you ever wondered how much information you give out? Let’s do a little activity, as you go through your day:
- ADD ONE every time you tell someone information about yourself: your name, birthday, the town you live in, where you go to school or work, your weekend plans
- ADD ONE every time you post information online about what you’re doing: places you visit, activities you’re in, friends you’re hanging out with, stores/restaurants/coffee shops you stop at
- ADD ONE every time you post a picture
- ADD TWO for every person who shares your post (your information is now shared with their network, too)
- ADD TWO for every person who posts information about you or tags you in a post (this information is often shared with your network and their network)
- ADD ONE for every friend or follower you have on every social media platform
- ADD TEN for each social media account that is public
- ADD ONE for every app that you have on your smartphone and/or tablet
- ADD ONE every time you use an app on your smartphone and/or tablet
- ADD ONE for every smart device you have in your home or on yourself (e.g., FitBit, smartwatch, Alexa, smart home hub, smart thermostat, smart security system, smart vacuum, smart appliances, etc.)
- ADD ONE every time you use your smart devices
- ADD FIVE if your name and/or photo is posted in an online story (like a news article) with information about you (e.g., a sports game, making Honor Roll, participating in an event, etc.) (You can’t control this information, but it’s still being shared about you)
- ADD ONE every time you search for something online
- ADD ONE every time you visit a different website (or someone else visits a website on your device)
- ADD ONE every time you log into a new Wi-Fi network (add two if it’s a public network and you aren’t using a Virtual Private Network: VPN)
What is your score at the end of the day? Can you imagine what it would be at the end of a week? A month? A year? How much information do you think you share in a lifetime? While your number may scare you, it’s also a starting point to think about the way you are sharing information and to whom you are sharing this information. If you think your score is too high, what you can do to lower it.
- Think about your content. Do you want to see all of that information next year, in five years or in twenty years? Once it’s online (no matter the platform used), it stays online. Even if you delete it from your profile, it’s still in the company’s data and there are times where you have given them permission to use it simply by accepting their Terms of Agreement. Then, don’t forget to think about your pictures. They say pictures are worth a thousand words…what do yours say about you? They may include information about you like the name of your school, locations you regularly visit, or brands you like and wear.
- Think about your devices. You might start by evaluating the number of smart devices or apps that you use. Do you still use all of them? If you don’t, then delete them or turn them off. Check out the permissions that you’re giving these apps and devices. Are they constantly listening to your conversations? Do they track your location? Do they access all of your contacts? Do they know when you leave home?
- Think about your network. If you have a public social media profile, think about making it private so that you can better control who has easy access to your information. Yes, it’s still available online, but now you’ve made it harder for someone outside of your network to view it.
- Think about your audience. Whether you’re are talking to someone face-to-face or online, be sure you know who you’re talking to and who is listening. These aren’t always the same. If you’re sharing private information, is there someone eavesdropping on your conversation? This is easier to know when you’re talking face-to-face but just as important to know when you’re talking online. Public Wi-Fi and other mediums can have eavesdropping.
- Think about what others post about you. There are times where information is shared about you that you don’t have control over, as in the case of your name and/or photo being shared in a news article or when other people post information about us. Talk to your friends and family about what they post about you. If other people know that you don’t want to be tagged in photos or posts, they will usually try not to post information about you without talking to you first.
Remember, everything that you – or others – share about you in person or online builds a gigantic picture of who you are and what you are doing. This big picture is filled with data that has value. In working to limit the information you share, you can better maintain control over your data, security, and identity.