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Computer Privacy and Security—It's All Up To You

You may have to change your outlook.

You may have missed it, but in mid-March Facebook announced that it was updating its “Statements of Rights and Responsibilities.” It had a one-week comment period to discuss proposed changes. While many of the policy updates were minor, perhaps the biggest change was the wholesale change in the language it used to describe its policies. All references to “Privacy Policy” are now changing to “Data Use Policy.” As your English teacher surely tried to emphasize, words matter.

Facebook will continue to have “Privacy Settings” but the change from Privacy Policy to Data Use Policy reemphasizes that they use your data as part of the user agreement. You use their product, they use your data. You can adjust how much data they use, but they are not in the business of protecting your privacy.

The Right To Privacy

Privacy, as set out by the Constitution, is a protection from government action, not a right between individuals and corporations. I have no right of privacy from gossip spread by my friends or colleagues. Doctors, pharmacies, hospitals have to follow laws ensuring medical information privacy but stores and websites are free to sell whatever data they have on my shopping patterns. They are only restricted by applicable laws and the user agreements (contracts) that I can choose to accept when I decide to shop there.

When Google announced their own changes to their policies, I made a choice to be more judicious in how I use their products. They gave clear instructions on how to clear data gathered on me and how to avoid sharing information. We all need to understand that these are businesses and the cost of using their “free” products is the sharing of my information.

On Security

You lock your house, you lock your car, and you don’t leave your wallet in plain sight while you step away. This doesn’t mean that you will never be robbed, but you don’t make it easy for thieves. When you apply these real world lesions to the virtual world, take a similar approach.

  • Lock your door. Do have a firewall set up on your home network. Do have strong passwords. Do have anti-virus software installed.
  • Know the neighborhood. When you are in unknown environments, don’t be as trusting. If you go looking for “free” software, “free” music or “free” adult entertainment, you are in the wrong side of town. If you are in a town of thieves, watch your step.
  • Keep things in perspective. You aren’t likely to use a padlock to protect your lunch in the company refrigerator (though you might be tempted) but you also aren’t leaving cash on your desk when you head out to replace your lunch when it is stolen. Use easy to remember passwords at news sites or other low-security situations. If it is your bank, go hard-core on the secure passwords.
  • Keep your senses about you. Phishing emails are looking to trick you into providing financial information by pretending to be someone else. Use the sniff test to see how legitimate financial emails smell. Don’t be afraid to contact the institution via phone or in person to ask questions. Never follow links in an email if you have suspicions.
  • Have insurance. Cars are stolen, houses catch fire. Protect your data by having a backup. Use credit cards instead of your checkbook or debit cards when shopping online to limit your liability and to access more protections.
  • Watch your property. Know your rights when your bank account is compromised. You should check your accounts frequently to ensure that there hasn’t been any fraud. Online thieves will often do test transactions in small amounts to see if the accounts are legitimate and frankly, to see if you notice. Financial institutions can help you stop the theft if you notify them in time. Don’t let theft go unnoticed.

Amanda M. Socci, Freelance Writer March 29, 2012 at 09:55 AM
Hi Jean: I enjoyed this article. Clever way of teaching people to protect themselves and their assets virtually. Thanks for your practical computer advice.
Beth Jarvis March 29, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Hi Jean---I enjoy reading your posts and learn something new from each of your columns. You have a wonderful ability to write creatively and informatively about IT matters in a way that is both interesting and accessible.
Yvone April 14, 2012 at 08:06 AM
Great Blog I add this post to my bookmarks
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