Center For Practice Management, Security

Recalling Privacy

While privacy and security are often used synonymously, and each can impact your cyber safety, privacy is related to controlling your personal information and how it is used. While there is a balance between privacy and usability, the amount of personal data that is sold and stored is disconcerting. What can you do to increase your privacy while still enjoying the benefits of online activities?

Did You Read the TOS?

Information about you is highly valuable. Your search history, purchases, behaviors, clicks, “likes”, pictures, face, location, emails, voice commands, the temperature you keep your house, how much you paid for your car and more are tracked, logged, and used for marketing, sales, and intelligence. Whether you are using free or paid services, data is being aggregated about you. Did you read the terms of service and privacy policy? Did you read the updates to those policies that change all the time? Researchers at Carnegie Mellon estimated it would take an average of 76 business days for the average Internet user to read all the privacy policies they encounter. That was in 2012.

Actions Have Consequences

Sometimes in the conversation about personal privacy people have retorted “I have nothing to hide”. However, this is simply not true. The use and misuse of people’s online activity and information can have far reaching consequences. On a personal level you could suffer data breach, identify theft, become a stalking victim, be profiled for higher insurance rates, be refused for a loan or the data could be used against you by the police or prosecution. At a societal level, human rights and civil liberties could be threatened. People are manipulated and fed misinformation. When artificial intelligence is applied to aggregated data bias is often introduced with negative consequences. We all need to protect our privacy and guard it. While there are numerous privacy laws, they are often more reactive than proactive. It is incumbent on the individual to guard your privacy. But how do we do this without just going totally off grid?

Web Browsers

Most of the major browsers (Firefox, Safari, Edge, Chrome) are taking steps to help block trackers, but not too much since they exist to serve up websites and ads so it would be counter to their bottom line to completely block them. Because of new data privacy laws, you will often see at the bottom of a website a click through agreement to accept cookies or choose to not use the site. Here are some things you can do to protect your browsing habits:


Free web-based email applications may make you the product. Serving up ads, based on bots “reading” your email, plus spam, tracking cookies and more are all issues. Here are a few things you can do to thwart the privacy erosion:

Public Records

If you have ever done a web search for your name or cell phone number, the results may shock and dismay you. With little effort you can unearth “public” information including the names of your relatives, your last 7 addresses, property ownership and more. Many of the sites that have this information beckon to offer more for a small fee. With $5 and a social security number anyone can get more than enough information to perpetrate identity theft. So, what can you do?

Social Media

Thanks to movies like The Social Dilemma and The Great Hack, most people are very aware that personal use of social media is a huge privacy concern. Other than getting off the platform (“private” platforms like Parler and Snapchat are not private either) here are a few ways to be smart about using the platforms:

  • Check all your privacy settings in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram (more tips here).
  • Do not accept friend or follow requests from complete strangers.
  • Make use of blocking features and report suspicious behavior.
  • Do not share personal information, like the names of your children (pictures of them), pictures of your house or house number, and pictures of your vacation until you have returned home. The problem is that many people document their personal lives to their “friends”, but once it goes online it is no longer yours – and it is forever.
  • Go through the photos you have posted – or been tagged in- in your social media platforms and delete them if you think they may endanger the privacy of you or your family.

Internet of Things

Voice activated assistants, always on cameras, refrigerators that report that you are running low on groceries, and other “smart” devices are all invading and potentially eroding your privacy. To read about how to control, delete or disable all the devices that are listening read the blog post from CPM “Somebody’s Watching Me”.

Smart Phone Apps

Apps on your smartphone and your laptop may be sharing more than you want to about your conversations, location, contacts, camera, files and almost anything else. How? Well, often when you install apps, a screen notifies you that the app needs permission to access certain functions/files on your device to work. In many cases that is true — but they may not tell you that additionally those apps are sharing information with third parties. You should do at least an annual check of the apps you are using and the permissions you have given them. You may decide to uninstall them or may be able to disable certain permissions unless you need them.

  • This Wired article has a great step-by-step guide for iPhone, Android, Windows and MacOS to check permissions and disable them.
  • Lifehacker also has a step-by-step guide on shutting down location tracking (and the implications).
  • Turn off NFC (Near Field Communication), GPS, and Bluetooth unless you are actively using them. This also helps with battery life!


While privacy and security are not the same, they are intertwined. Make sure to follow all best practices for keeping your information secure. Want more tips? Read this recent PC Magazine article. Even if you do not follow all the steps above, pick a few that make sense to you and start to recall some of your privacy.