data privacy and you: amid a patchwork of regulations, here’s how to stay secure

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People are waking up to the fact that on most of the internet, their personal data is anything but private and secure.

New state and federal rules are working to tackle the problem. In 2023, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, and Virginia are bringing new privacy laws into effect — and Congress is considering a big policy package called the American Data Privacy and Protection Act.

But this patchwork of rules won’t change much in the short term. In the absence of consistent rules to protect your data, here’s what you can do to stay secure.

Delete apps you don’t use

A dead-easy way to improve your digital privacy is to minimize the number of apps on your device.

Chances are, you’ve got unused apps cluttering your smartphone or tablet. The average person has 40 apps on their phone — but spends most of their time on just 18 of them.

Comb through your home screen to see which of your apps aren’t really needed. Android 13 even has a feature to help you identify and delete apps you rarely use.

It pays to be aggressive about removing unused apps from your life — since you can always redownload them in the future. Go ahead and fill that storage space with photos instead.

Look for anything suspicious in app privacy policies

At illumy, our policy is to only collect as much data as we need to provide you with service. We won’t sell your contact information to third parties like advertisers or data brokers. And we can never see anything you’ve stored, said, or shared on illumy.

But to be sure you’re secure on all the other apps you use, consider reading their privacy policies — especially if the app has access to your sensitive personal information.

Your goal should be to flag anything concerning. In particular, look for words like “sell” or “advertising.” The nonprofit Consumer Federation of California suggests asking the following questions when browsing privacy policies:

– What personal information is collected?
– How is the information collected?
– Why is the information collected?
– How is the information used?
– Who will have access to the information?
– What choices do you have?
– Can you review or correct your personal information?
– What security measures are used to protect your personal information?
– How long will the organization honor its privacy policy?
– Who can you contact about the organization’s privacy practices?

Make it harder to triangulate you

Cookies, the tiny pieces of data websites use to track you, are easy enough to delete. You can even set your web browser to trash them automatically.

Masking your activity on apps is another story. Many apps use a hard-to-detect technique called fingerprinting to track user behavior. While Apple has banned the practice, it remains widespread.

You can contact apps’ privacy teams (using the email address in their privacy policy) to ask if they fingerprint. But because you might not always get a clear answer, a good idea is to be proactive and limit what data you share.

That means:

Avoiding sketchy free apps.

Free apps are some of the worst offenders when it comes to collecting unnecessary information. Do some research on the free apps on your phone to see what exactly they know about you.

Turning off location services.

Some apps log users’ location as many as 14,000 times per day. Both iOS and Android identify the apps that can see your location so you can revoke access.

Using a VPN.

VPNs are great for watching overseas video content. They’re also a powerful privacy tool that can mask your IP address. That makes it much harder for snoops to see where you are.

Stay up to date on digital privacy news

Because there’s no overarching federal rule on data privacy, you’re essentially on your own in navigating the privacy landscape.

Articles like this one can help, but it’s important to stay vigilant about what’s happening in your state or jurisdiction. By keeping informed, you can also press your elected officials to do more to protect privacy.

There are several reputable nonprofits that offer privacy news and views — including in easy-to-digest newsletter format. Some of our favorites:

– The Electronic Frontier Foundation
– Electronic Privacy Information Center
– The Center for Democracy & Technology
– Mozilla Foundation
– The Future of Privacy Forum

Did we miss any? Let us know on social media @illumyinc — and stay secure out there.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

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