Need More Data: The Give and Take of Sharing Information Online

October is National Cyber Security Awareness month.

 

Butt of the internet joke

You know, there was a time when the internet didn't get me. When it didn't serve my every whim just because it knew me so well.

 

Back then, If you wanted to listen to music, you had to actually know what you wanted to listen to, and you had to buy it or find it. YouTube had one featured video page for everybody. And ads were ... well, OK, ads have pretty much always been targeted. The point is, as things are now, an internet user hardly has to work at all. The web remembers everything about me.

 

This is where the internet can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it keeps track of the music I like, the videos I watch, and the items I purchase, so it can keep the goodness rolling. It's not particularly subtle about it, either. If I watch a beer ad all the way through before my YouTube video instead of skipping, you better believe I'm going to get pitched every single alcohol add imaginable over the next few weeks.

 

The nebulous internet has also discovered that I'm a gamer, so I guess I can get used to the "Free to Play!" ads. Really, this is a good thing. The ads don't always get it right (shout out to the week all my YouTube ads were in Spanish), but they're on the right track — targeted advertising.

 

The problem is when you stop being a target demographic and start just being a target. I'll gladly watch misguided ads for the rest of my life if it means that my credit card information never gets stolen again. (That was a wonderful Saturday morning.) The problem with data is that it involves a certain amount of trust. When somebody betrays that trust by being malicious, or even just sloppy, the trusting consumer ends up paying for it.

 

No, I'm not about to recommend that we all clip our Ethernet cables and live as hermits in the woods. In fact, data collection is arguably not even a necessary evil, but actually an impressive good. After all, when Amazon remembers your purchases so you can find that banana slicer in record time, that's data.

 

When that country singer you like puts your town on her tour date, there's a good chance they pulled that from Spotify data. And ironically, when your bank calls because your purchases seem suspicious? That's data too. So, it's not all bad, any more than e-mails are bad because they're used in phishing scams. You just have to be savvy. Here are a few good things to remember when you're trying to keep your data safe.

 

Do Your Research — If you're worried that a website or application is not safe, Google it. There are sites that do nothing but review other sites and applications for safety. If there's bad news, don't go for it. If there's no news, don't go for it. Only if it comes up as reputable should you download/explore it.

 

Ask Yourself: "Do they really need to know that?" — If a site or application is asking for your mother's maiden name, or your credit card number, or your bank account number, they'd better be protecting something important. If they're not, that's a significant red flag.

 

Stay Up-To-Date — Your operating system and your antivirus should be kept up-to-date at all times. We've already written about some of the nasty exploits that have been discovered recently on older versions of operating systems, so it's important to keep yourself guarded with the latest patches and virus definitions.

 

Use a Password Manager — A password manager will ensure that even if the security on one of your websites is compromised, data thieves won't be able to leverage that into access to your other secure websites.

 

Ultimately, data is becoming hot currency. We're given access to otherwise free resources in exchange for it. We can't and shouldn't keep our data completely offline, but that doesn't mean we can't take steps to keep it safe. Happy browsing!

 

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About the Author
David Telford

David Telford is a short-attention-span renaissance man and university student. His current project is the card game MatchTags, which you can find on Facebook and Kickstarter.