Dear Trish: I’ve been seeing all of this stuff in the news about privacy and it’s got me thinking about how to protect myself. I think privacy is really important but I’m not sure what to do.
Hi there! First of all, thank you so much for the important, and indeed, quite timely question. You’re right: now, more than ever, the spotlight is on privacy, and in particular, digital privacy. And as I made light of in this week’s TikTok, that has a lot to do with the fact that even the most vehement privacy advocates can be a little privacy-illiterate. (So with that said, don’t feel bad or ashamed that you’re not 100% sure how to take action on privacy—the reality is that few people do!) But it doesn’t need to be that way, and hopefully, this post is a brief, effective first step towards a broader privacy education.
First, I think it’s important to establish why you should care about privacy. After all—and I know a lot of folks who think this way—if you have nothing to hide, does it really matter? While everyone ultimately has different privacy preferences, it’s often the case that what seems unimportant or not sensitive today can have lots of implications down the line. Consider, for example, all those pics on your Insta of the fun ~parties~ you went to in the city: it doesn’t really seem to be that important…until a prospective employer is running a background check. All that’s to say: you’re entitled to feel how you want about privacy, but it’s important to keep in mind that information that seems innocuous or really irrelevant may not always be that way, and lots of little, seemingly meaningless pieces of info. about you can ultimately add up to one #bigproblem.
Which is of particular importance in the digital age, because aggregate, mass data collection is what the internet is all about. When you’re on Facebook, Insta, or even shopping for a cute Halloween costume on Amazon, loads and loads of data about you is being collected—mostly with the goal of selling you stuff. Maybe that doesn’t bother you a ton—though plenty of people find targeted ads creepy—but unfortunately, it’s not just Facebook and Amazon that can collect data about you; because so much of that information is publicly available on the Web, other people can too. And I don’t know about you, but that does not sound cool to me.
And that brings us to your question: what on earth to do? Believe it or not, there are some pretty common-sense ways you can protect your privacy online. My first tip is to make your social media accounts private and to be conscious about who you let into your digital world. That first suggestion might be a no-brainer, but I’d suggest you think very carefully about the second—I have tons of friends who let pretty much anyone follow them, just to get that follower count up. It’s worth asking: would you share your info. with those folks in real life? And if not, what about the digital world is different? Once you’ve taken care of the “who,” my second tip is to be smart about the “what.” When you post, try to not share sensitive information, like your phone number, your address, or biographical information, like your age. That’s a principle that should apply to both the content of your post, and associated settings—plenty of posts, for example, share location data with viewers. Utilize the settings in your social media apps to ensure that that’s not the case. And while social media can and should be fun, don’t be posting all the time (or be overly detailed in your posts). Remember, that’s all info. that, once released, can be hard to contain.
I’d also suggest checking out the privacy settings for each of your social media accounts (note that many popular social media platforms have dedicated “privacy”-specific settings). There, you can do everything from limit sharing of your information with third parties (in other words, stop social media from constantly selling you things!) to ensure that sensitive information associated with your account (such as your email address) isn’t public. If you take care of all of that^, you’ll be in a pretty good place, digital privacy-wise, or at least, as much as you reasonably can be on the Internet.
As always, thank you for tuning into another week of Ask Trish! If there’s literally anything Internet-related on your mind, don’t hesitate to share your questions, thoughts, or perspectives here (and your topic might be featured in an upcoming TikTok/blog post!). I bet some of you think you need to have a really clever, intricate question or a very pressing, important situation to reach out; trust me—that couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether it’s just something you’ve been thinking about and want to hear more about, or something you’ve recently (and maybe casually) observed, this community and I want to hear about it! 💙 Which brings me to my end-of-post plug: don’t forget—if you see an Ask Trish video you like, share it on your social media. Let’s get that #AskTrishhype!
Talk to you all again next Tuesday! Until then,