The New Year often starts with resolutions about waistlines and career goals, but we offer you another to consider: building your knowledge about data privacy.  

We know our data is being collected and used as we engage with the digital world. After all, every day we enjoy what the digital world has to offer, such as personalized advertising, access to websites, mobile apps, and search engines, and the ability to connect with friends and family. However, sometimes we are unsure of the tools and choices available to us as we use our devices and traverse the web.  

To fully engage with the digital world, make choices about your personal privacy, and keep your data safe and secure, keep in mind the following tips and make better privacy and security practices one of your New Year’s resolutions:

1. If you don’t like personalized advertising, you can opt out. We’ve all encountered those ads that follow us around the web as we shop and explore. These ads are known as interest-based advertising. Some consumers like interest-based advertising for the personalization it provides. However, if it’s not your cup of tea, you can opt out by visiting aboutads.info/choices.

2. Use your device’s settings. Engineered into your smartphone are options to make choices about your privacy. If you don’t want companies to track the use of your mobile apps to deliver interest-based advertising, you can opt out by going to your phone’s settings. For iPhones, you can go to Settings > Privacy > Advertising and turn on Limit Ad Tracking. For Android phones, you can go to Settings>Google Settings>Ads and switch on Opt out of interest-based ads or Opt out of Ads Personalization.

3. Look for the “S”. When you’re browsing the web or shopping online, check to see if the site you're looking at is safe by following these tips. Then, look in the upper left-hand corner of your web browser for https://. This indicates a website is protected by an extra layer of encryption known as Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secured. If you are entering personal or financial information into a website, make sure https is present. And if you want to learn more about this type of technology, visit BBB.org/BBBsecure.

4. Construct strong passwords. You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating. Build strong passwords, and don’t use the same password for all of your accounts! Make sure to use a combination of different cases, special characters, letters, and numbers, and avoid using commonly used passwords.

5. Be smart about two-factor. You’re probably familiar with the idea of two-factor authentication. Basically, to access a sensitive account, in addition to providing a password, you need to answer a question or provide some other type of information. Therefore, if you are setting up two-factor for a banking, social media, or other types of sensitive online account, make sure your security question is something that isn’t easily guessed or researched. For example, shy away from questions such as “What was the name of your high school mascot?” or “What is your mother’s maiden name?” This is because it’s not difficult to find the answers to these questions with a little research into the public record.

6. Look at your social media’s privacy settings. Our favorite types of social media and apps often have privacy options engineered into them. Take some time to learn about the options you have and what types of data are being shared as you engage with the digital world. You have more control than you might think.

7. Lock your computer and log out of social media. In your office, do you ever step away from your computer to get up to take an extra-long lunch break? At home after a long day, do you ever login to check your email and social media, get up to watch Netflix, and fall asleep on the couch? Take some extra precautions and lock your computer when you’re away from your desk at the office and make sure to log out of your accounts when you’re done browsing on your desktop computer at home. These may seem like small steps, but these actions are easy preventative measures you can take to prevent a bad actor from stealing your data or compromising your identity.

8. Delete old apps. Is there a dating app you downloaded last year that you don’t use anymore, or an app that provided you with some new recipes that you stopped using? Even though you don’t use them anymore, these apps might be collecting data about how you use your device in the background. Declutter your life and delete old apps to help maintain your privacy.

9. Be wary of public Wi-Fi. Generally speaking, public Wi-Fi is riskier than your Wi-Fi at home or in your office. When you connect to public Wi-Fi, make sure the network is password protected and the websites you visit are encrypted with HTTPS. Otherwise, wait till you’re back home. Click here to learn more about staying safe when you use public Wi-Fi networks.

10. Think about autofill. We’ve all seen this before: We’re filling out a form, and our favorite web browser asks us if we want to save addresses, passwords, and credit card information. While this is a convenient service, in some situations this type of information can be extracted and shared with a third-party. Some hackers can even find ways to access your web browser to steal this information. While companies strive to protect the security of your saved information, they also offer you the ability to turn this feature off. See the following links on how to disable autofill in Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.

11. Update your software. Software updates are important, because as technology advances, cyber criminals and attackers get better at cracking encryption and stealing your data. So when your phone or your desktop computer’s operating system prompts you to update your software, don’t sleep on it. Update your software to make sure your digital experience is safe and secure.

12. But, build a keen eye for malware. We’ll repeat it again: Software updates are important. But make sure you don’t click on just any link you see about updating your software. If you’re browsing the web and you see a pop-up randomly appear that demands that you update your software, chances are it could be malware (a type of malicious code) in disguise. When this type of pop-up notification appears, check for correct spelling and exaggerated language. Remember, the vast majority of modern software updates will alert you through the program itself or through your operating system, as opposed to when you’re browsing the web or through an email.

13. Keep learning. Privacy and data security can seem like difficult subjects that require special expertise, but just learning a little bit about the options that are available to you will help you make valuable choices about the use of your data and protect you from bad actors.

Learning about privacy and security isn’t always fun. However, taking a few short steps can protect you from some truly un-fun experiences. Just like personal hygiene, financial literacy, automotive maintenance, diet, and exercise are important in everyday life, building skills and knowledge around how your data is used and how you can protect it is an essential part of engaging with the digital world around you. This year, make a commitment to learn about what you can do to protect your privacy and your data!