Today is the 10th National Data Privacy Day in the UK. While we are at Bett 2017, we decided to take a break from our booth and have a chat about our own privacy, as well as yours and just as importantly, that of your pupils.
Privacy is a hot issue. It seems our personal data is constantly under attack and that a Big Brother (1984) scenario is not so far off. Some media even claim that Privacy is completely dead. But does that mean that we can't protect ourselves and our personal information? Of course we can.
In this article, we want to provide you with some tips for yourself and your pupils on how to actively increase your privacy.
For more information on Privacy in the UK, you can surf to the website of the National Cyber Security Alliance.
What is the fuss about privacy?
Privacy is the right to decide what information about yourself with others. It is an institutional freedom, designed to keep our personal information safe from monitoring by third parties, such as governments, commercial companies and our peers on social media.
You would be surprised how much information about you will pop up as soon as you enter your own name in a search engine such as Google. Not to mention how well Facebook knows who we are and what we like. But why do companies such as Google and Facebook need all that information about us? First of all, to create a more personalised experience: providing content and search results that match our interests. But also so they can make money on our information by selling it to advertisers.
But what can you do about that? There are several tools out there to help you increase your privacy and prevent companies or governments from tracking you. The best tool however is your common sense. Always think twice (or even more) before you share information about yourself! Before you fill in your name, interests, age, photographs or even just your email address, try to answer the following questions:
- Who is asking about me? Is it a person, a company or a governmental agency?
- What information is it requiring of me? What does that tell about me?
- Why would anyone want this information? What use could it possibly have for them?
- Do I still want this information to be available in a few years?
A fun awareness experiment
If you want to start by raising awareness on Privacy with your pupils (or even yourself), you can surf to http://clickclickclick.click. We won't spoil too much about what will happen, but it's definitely an eye opener on how much websites and the companies behind them know about you.
Visualise and block trackers
As soon as we go online or turn on our smartphones, everyone is constantly being tracked. Every single person is estimated to be listed in 400 to 500 databases, ranging from governmental institutions, over loyalty cards in stores and to online registrations. Not to mention how many so called cookies are installed on all of our computers and smartphones. Those cookies are tiny bits of code installed on our devices, to send information back to the owner. That can be Facebook or Google, an advertisement company, the government and so on. Take a look at this video by The Guardian to learn more about they work:
A great exercise to increase awareness on who is tracking us, is using a visualisation tool. You can use the Lightbeam plugin for the Firefox browser to show who is tracking you. Just by visiting everyday websites, such as a newspaper and the BBC, you'll see lots of other tools and websites also collecting information. It won't surprise you to see Google and Facebook in the mix.
The next step is to put a stop to all this tracking and decide for yourself who can collect personal information about you. A great tool for this is Privacy Badger by the Electronic Fronteer Foundation. This non-profit foundation is dedicated to protect our digital privacy and has developed a great plugin to help you take matters into your own hands on the computer. For every website you visit, you get a notification on trackers and can decide what to do with all of them.
All the browsers available to surf on the internet (Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Opera ...) allow you to go incognito. That way, when you end your session and close the browser, all cookies will be deleted and your search history will be erased. Almost no information about you is sent back to websites. It is not as strong as a tool such as Privacy Badger, but can provide you with a great layer of protection.
When you want to open a new window in your browser, instead of just clicking new, try 'New Incognito Window'. An icon of an undercover detective will appear to let you know you are safe.
Use a secure private messaging application
Everyday people share conversations, photographs and so on about themselves through messaging apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. However, few realise that these companies collect all kinds of data on their users, from identity and location to topics they are interested in. This data is then put to use to generate more advertising income. Another risk is that the contents of your private conversations with your friends can leak and become public. Or the government may ask WhatsApp to check all messages between the inhabitants of their country.
Luckily, there are great alternative messaging apps out there that do take your privacy seriously and encrypt conversations. No data is sold to commercial companies or made available to governments when you use Telegram. The Signal Private Messaging app takes matters even further: they do not collect any sensitive information at all. Every conversation between you and your friends is a secret.
An important step in your online security is of course making sure all your passwords are extremely secure and different for every website, app or service.
You can use the Cast-Iron Password learning guide to teach your pupils how to create such a secure password. But of course, all those different (and difficult) passwords are not easy to remember. That is where secure password managers come into play. These are computer programs and apps that remember your passwords for you, in an encrypted form so no one else has access to them. That way, you only have to remember one main password and make it a super strong one. Try Dashlane or LastPass to make sure you never have to use the same password twice.
What else can you do?
These are just some first tips on how to increase your privacy, but they will help quite a lot. Do you know any more great tools or ways to raise awareness on the topic? Let us know in the comments and remember: there is no better protection than common sense!