Get Your Digital House In Order!

Now is a good time to take a moment to make sure you are doing what you can to help minimize data privacy and security risks with regard to your digital accounts.  

1.  Take inventory of your online accounts.  Make a list all of the online accounts you have, and determine which ones you no longer use or need.  This may include old email accounts, social media accounts, financial and banking accounts, shopping accounts that retain your credit card information, accounts containing personal health information, and others.  

2.  Examine your password practices. Do you use the same passwords for multiple accounts containing sensitive information?  Do you use common words or phrases as passwords? If the answer to either of those is yes, create a new strategy and change your passwords.  This could involve using a password manager, enabling multi-factor authentication (which we highly recommend), or (at minimum) changing and strengthening your passwords.

Many Unhappy Returns

It’s inevitable.  As the holidays draw to a close, many of us will have received a well-intended gift that we may not like.  Whether it’s a matter of the wrong size or color, a defective product, a duplicate gift, or just something that we just “don’t want”, it may become necessary to return the gift to a retailer.  Retailers have different policies (and states have different laws) concerning the ability to return unwanted merchandise.  But, one thing that troubles many privacy conscious consumers is when retailers require a driver’s license (or other government-issued ID) for returning or exchanging merchandise.  

Why do some retailers swipe your driver’s license?

Retailers say they do this to keep better track of possible return fraud. Typically, they will swipe your license in a reader that will query a database to look at your return history for patterns of fraud or abuse.  By scanning your license, the retailer can collect any information that is encoded on the license's magnetic stripe or bar code. In most states, this information includes the data printed on the face of your license, such as name, address, date of birth, and license number. 

Cool New Tech Devices: What Privacy Risks Are Wrapped Up Under Your Tree?

Are you asking for a “smart” appliance or thermostat, fitness tracking device, connected security camera system for your home, or even smart clothing this holiday season?  As the holiday season approaches, all the new cool technology gadgets that are “must haves” may have privacy risks you didn’t consider. 

The technology world has coined the connection of devices “The Internet of Things” or “IoT”   Most likely, when you think of "the Internet", you visualize going online by using a computer, tablet, or smartphone.  However, with technological advances, numerous other everyday devices can also access the Internet and transmit various types of data.  In fact, almost any item (even an article of clothing with a special tag) can be connected to the Internet. 

Data Brokers: Buying and Selling Your Personal Information

Perhaps you just purchased a new home.  Maybe you’re getting married or expecting a baby.  You bought a new car.  You subscribed to a magazine.  Or maybe you just ordered a pizza.  What do all of these activities have in common?  There’s a good chance that your personal information may have fallen into the hands of a data broker. 

While data brokers often remain invisible to consumers, they have the potential to significantly impact our lives.  It can be challenging, if not impossible, for consumers to escape the collection of personal data by data brokers. 

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse’s new guide Data Brokers and Your Privacy discusses the data broker industry and the “digital dossiers” that they assemble about individuals.  These dossiers often include a surprisingly broad range of information.

Are You Considering Using a Personal Mobile Device for Work? Read Our Tips on BYOD!

"Bring your own device," or BYOD, is a popular practice with both employers and employees.  Employees like the convenience.  They don't want to worry about carrying multiple phones or tablets. They like using devices they are comfortable with. And, they can work from anywhere.  Employers like having connected employees, and some believe that BYOD policies save the company money.

The tradeoff for employers is that they lose some control over company data and can face greater legal, business and security risks.  Unfortunately, this may mean employees compromise privacy and control over their own phones and data when they agree to participate in a BYOD program.

Tips for Employees

1.  Read and/or understand the employer's policy before you participate.  BYOD policies will vary depending on who you work for, what kind of data you have access to, what industry you are in, and what your role is.  They may involve formal contracts or informal agreements.   As is often the case, the most important thing to do is understand what you are signing up for!   A BYOD policy can create a win-win situation or a messy dispute.  

If the policy is written, read it thoroughly. If you don't understand it, ask your manager or human resources department to explain what it means. 

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Releases Study: Mobile Health and Fitness Apps: What Are the Privacy Risks?

Many individuals use mobile apps to monitor their health, learn about specific medical conditions, and help them achieve personal fitness goals.  Apps in the “wellness” space include those that support diet and exercise programs; pregnancy trackers; behavioral and mental health coaches; symptom checkers that can link users to local health services; sleep and relaxation aids; and personal disease or chronic condition managers.   

After studying 43 popular health and fitness apps (both free and paid) from both a consumer and technical perspective, it is clear that there are considerable privacy risks for users – and that the privacy policies for those apps that have policies do not describe those risks. However, these apps appeal to a wide range of consumers because they can be beneficial, convenient, and are often free to use. 

Are the Businesses You Frequent or Work for Exposing You to an Identity Thief?

When we think about data breaches, we often worry about malicious-minded computer hackers exploiting software flaws, or perhaps Internet criminals seeking to enrich themselves at our expense. But the truth is that errors and negligence within the workplace are a significant cause of data breaches that compromise sensitive personal information.

Thus, a critical starting point for preventing future security breaches (and the identity theft that can follow) is developing ironclad policies and practices for handling personal information from within the workplace.

A New Year for Privacy: The PRC Launches Online Complaint Center

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC) is proud to announce the launch of an interactive online complaint center designed to serve as a clearinghouse for consumer privacy complaints.  This builds upon our 19-year history of troubleshooting consumers’ complaints and questions regarding a wide variety of information privacy issues, including background checks, debt collection, data breaches, financial information, and online data brokers. The PRC's staff will review and respond to every complaint, providing individuals with information and strategies to address their problem.

Data Breaches: A Year in Review

2011 was a significant year for data security, with some of the biggest data breaches in our history reported. So far in 2011, we’ve tracked 535 breaches involving 30.4 million sensitive records. This brings the total reported records breached in the U.S. since 2005 to the alarming number of 543 million.

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has been tracking breaches since 2005 and publishes aChronology of Data Breaches. The Chronology counts the number of records leaked that contain information useful to identity thieves, such as Social Security numbers, financial account numbers, driver's license numbers – and in some states, medical information.

Read our list of the top half dozen most significant data breaches in 2011.

Survive Cyber Monday with our Top 10 Online Shopping Tips

The phrase "Cyber Monday" was coined several years ago to describe the phenomenon of millions of workers returning to their offices on the Monday after Thanksgiving and spending a good part of the day doing their holiday shopping online.  By November 2010, Cyber Monday had become the biggest online shopping day in history and the first to surpass the billion-dollar threshold. 

By all indications, Cyber Monday 2011 will be a blockbuster day for online retailers.  Shopping online can be a convenient, time-saving, and economical alternative to shopping in a traditional "bricks and mortar" retail store.  However, it's important for consumers to take basic steps to protect their privacy.  If you plan to shop online on Cyber Monday (or on any other day of the year), following these 10 tips will help to protect you from fraud, identity theft and other privacy intrusions.


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