Fordham IT: How to Manage Personal Data on the Web

Big data is scary. Especially for students. When dealing with private information, however, there is a way to better protect yourself, and your data, when browsing the web and using social media services. To help, Fordham IT Communication Specialist, Elizabeth Cornell, has offered a few tips about how to protect your personal data. Read more below. 

(Photo by Sam Joseph/The Ram)

When you enrolled as a student at Fordham University, you gave the school confidential information about yourself. You had to share this information or you could not attend school. You gave it freely because you trust that Fordham will keep it along with additional information such as your grades, private.

But imagine if Fordham decided to sell your personal information to the folks who run Auntie Annie’s Pretzels. You would probably feel concerned that your privacy was compromised, even if Auntie Annie’s only planned to use the information to help them dream up recipes for pretzels that appealed especially to Fordham students.

Fortunately, Fordham, like all institutions of higher learning, respects and guards any confidential information that you share with them.

But companies such as Google and social media sites do sell information about their users. Nearly every site you use collects data about what you search for and post. Facebook even knows about the posts you wrote but then deleted. That information is sold to other companies, who use it to place ads for products and services in your online path. Think of your online presence as a precious raw material you give away for free to a total stranger. The strangers sells your information for a good price, but you share none of the profits.

It is legal, because that User Agreement we all “accept” but usually do not bother reading whenever we register for sites such as Google, Facebook, or Instagram gives them permission to monitor things like our online surfing behavior, the tags we add to images, and personal information we share, such as school affiliations and whether we’re in a relationship.

As a recent USA Today article reports, whenever you conduct an online search for Yankees memorabilia, “Like” your friend’s post about scoring a pair of designer shoes at half price, share a photo on Instagram, or tweet about your latest academic accomplishment, “your ‘audience’ is bigger than you know.”

Even Blackboard and book publishers monitor your interaction with their products. They use the data to ostensibly make a better a product, just right for you. But do you want to Blackboard to have so much access to the things you produce inside their product? If you want to use these services, products and websites, you may not have much of a choice.

This privacy issue is different from the horror stories of people who make embarrassing posts on Twitter and Facebook that end up expelling them from school or costing them a job. Most people are aware of the social death that can arise from a misguided post that goes viral. Though you cannot do much to prevent someone from negatively targeting you (except to be nice to everyone), you can exert control over what you post. That is called managing your online presence.

But we can inadvertently lose control of the things which certainly can be in our control. A 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press revealed that one out of every five teenagers surveyed post their cell phone numbers online. Another 70 percent post where they live. This is great information for someone who notices your brother’s Twitter stream about the family vacation, finds your home address and uses the opportunity to rob your house. But it is not good management of an online presence.

You can take steps to limit the information transmitted to others. For example, when you sign up for a new site, give the least amount of information necessary. Does the site really need your cell phone number and all your email addresses? How much other personal information do you really need to divulge? Dig into the accounts privacy settings and restrict access where possible. Though it is more difficult to monitor what the social media company or search engine knows about you, at least you can make sure you know what personal information can be viewed by the general public on those sites you use.

Also look at the different apps you have authorized to link to the social media sites you frequent. As Nick Bilton recently wrote in The New York Times, “dozensif not hundredsof apps and services have access to your social accounts and can see everything you’re doing online.” If you have not used an app in a while, delete it from your account.

Speaking of apps, Digital Shadow will show you what people can and cannot see on your Facebook account. As the site says on its home page, “You are not an individual. You are a data cluster.”

Managing your online privacy is a lifelong responsibility. What steps have you taken lately to ensure that it’s not being unnecessarily abused?

Elizabeth Cornell is the Fordham IT Communication Specialist. You can follow Fordham IT Updates here and Fordham Secure IT here.

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