As 2024 gets underway, many people are focused on new year’s resolutions – eat healthier, quit smoking, catch up with family. But what about your online privacy and safety? Virginia Tech information privacy and cybersecurity experts and co-founders of Voices of Privacy, France Bélanger and Donna Wertalik say now is also a good time to make resolutions about protecting your and your loved ones’ information in the digital world.
Wertalik and Bélanger say January is a great time to perform a digital cleanup and consider privacy in digital health. Wertalik explains that “A digital cleanup is revisiting what you share online and getting ready for the new year with enhanced privacy and security.” “Of course there are basic steps like changing passwords, deleting old files, clearing out digital photo albums that come to mind,” says Belanger but these experts also recommend doing the following:
- Close old accounts. If you never log-in, shut them down so a little less of you is online. These accounts may be using old passwords or have weak security that put you at risk of someone hacking into them.
- Remove unused apps. The more apps on your smartphone, the more power and storage space they consume. That in turn affects performance and likely shares a lot of information about you. They can also be used as a gateway to hack your phone if they have vulnerabilities. Whatever you don’t delete, check the settings to see what they have access to on your phone, e.g., camera, microphone.
- Check all privacy settings. Have you done updates recently? If you have, did you recheck privacy settings after each? If not, it is possible that some settings were turned on or off by default, or that new settings exist. Fortunately, many apps have started to ask for you to confirm your privacy settings. Nevertheless, now is the time to decide again what you agree to share with which app.
- Reduce push notifications. Other than phone and text messages. Push notifications have been shown to reduce productivity and increase stress.
- Perform a social media cleanup. Studies show that 4-6 hours of social media a day leads to increased isolation and depression. Now is the time to remove extra apps because by not being easily accessible, your focus will go up. An additional step for those with iPhones would be to use the focus mode. With this, you can customize your day with “do not disturb” and set who you want to receive messages from and when.
Use of technology to manage your health is referred to as digital health, which can include using apps, for example, to lose weight, eat better, or exercise more. “Digital Health goes beyond just apps, to also include streaming or digital training systems like Peloton that connect you to other people,” says Wertalik. The duo says you should consider the following if you plan to use technology to aid in your goals.
- Data Inaccuracy. The primary issue is that health data, particularly related to weight and activity levels, is often inaccurate. AI may change this down the road.
- Insufficient Monitoring. Many health trackers fail to monitor crucial factors, such as the impact of caffeine or noise on sleep quality. Existing technologies often focus on estimating basic sleep metrics without addressing factors that could improve sleep quality.
- Data breaches. Many of these apps and systems record where you are, what you share with others, your health statistics, your exercise statistics, what you eat, and so on. This data can be stolen. There have also been reports of hackers getting into the cameras and microphones on Peloton and other systems, so they can see and record you.
Margaret Ashburn for Virginia Tech