How to shield personal data from evil doers

4 min read

Cellphone displaying VPN logo

Digital privacy is practically a misnomer. The list of companies not hacked seems shorter than those attacked. 

Dentin Waweru might not agree with the exaggeration, but cybersecurity is a concern. The software engineer and freelance digital fixer talked during an Africa Tweet Chat about privacy and how well social media aligns with the interests of the consumer.

“I love everything about technology,” he said, giving hacks for users to safeguard their social media privacy:

  • Own Information Technology: Add your personality including name, profile picture and biography. 
  • Secure IT: Two-step authentication. 
  • Protect IT: Not sharing your passwords. 

The first reflex after your account is hacked is to change your password. Then make sure your privacy settings are tight. Also be sure you have downloaded the latest updates for your browser. 

“It’s important to acknowledge that you’ve been hacked and realize that it happens more often,” Waweru said. “Social media platforms struggle to deal with hacks. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to regain access and control of your account.

“Check your mail for any new login activity,” he said. “Most of our accounts are linked to our mail. This feature acts as a central pivot for all our social media activities.”

Check for subtle differences in data. 

“Take a close look at your account to notice if there are changes,” Waweru said. “Most likely there will be suspicious activities such as messaging or posting of information that you can’t account for.

“Your friends and family might also contact you and ask about malicious activities based on the nature of your online interactions,” he said. “Remove off-site downloads and extensions that you might have previously engaged with.”

Questionable cookie treats

Websites might have enabled gateways for tampering. 

“Cookies are the most common source of hacks,” Waweru said. “This is to get rid of malware. You might have accidentally downloaded them, which might be used to compromise you again. 

“Run a full scan of your device,” he said. “Ensure you use only safe and verified websites.”

Good Security Protects Us From Ourselves

Account access tools are also vulnerable. 

“Reset your passwords if you use a similar password for multiple accounts, which is highly discouraged,” Waweru said. “Most devices and social media platforms have privacy protection plans—such as two-step verification—as an additional layer of protection.

“Take on additional security features,” he said. “Keep track of your account for a few days. Inform friends and family that your account may have been compromised. Reassure them that you have taken the necessary precautions.”

You can never feel too secure on social media or anywhere on the internet of things. The cynic says if the bad guys don’t already have your personal information directly from your account, they will get it from your next trip to the market. 

“Remember, social media only enforces information that you’ve voluntarily given,” Waweru said. “Some people feel secure that the platforms are doing their best to uphold data privacy, while others don’t feel like their data privacy is upheld.

“This is a common worry among consumers,” he said. “It’s important to note that before interacting with any social media platform, it is vital to question if you subscribe to the platform’s business model.”

The more you know …

Most people are not aware of these details. 

“Business models vary according to a platform’s development cycle,” Waweru said. “Some platforms encourage consumers to embrace their provisions because they give your phone more usefulness. The more the app knows about you, the more it can do for you.

“Other platforms reject such a business model,” he said. “They believe, by allowing the infringement on data privacy, you are the product and not the customer. Understand their business model, and see if it aligns with your interests. Then pick the best product.”

Contrary to popular belief, Waweru said ad blockers don’t block the functions of cookies on devices.

There are ways to tailor social media information to get the best out of it.

“Social media works on the premise of a business model,” Waweru said. “For the consumer, it’s important to note that you are in control of the information you provide on social media.

“Based on consumers’ interests, you can provide your platforms with relevant information that may help it ensure that your life is in check,” he said. “Arrange your engagement in chronological order to better help you handle your personal and professional life. Think of it like a personal secretary.”

Brands Draw Attention with Paid Media

In user agreements’ fine print you might have agreed that companies may sell your information.

“Data is equivalent to money,” Waweru said. “Some brands resell your data to third parties. This is framed as a business tool that assists in marketing. That affects the increase in ads you view or messages from bulk messaging facilities.

“When it comes to personal data, it’s difficult to identify unlawful collections from lawful ones,” he said. 

Targeted ads arise from data

Whatever its source, the mass of information feeds into analytics.

“This collects all and any type of data you view, share or like,” Waweru said. “It creates a profile of who you are and what interests you might like.

“Such data is used by third parties for targeted advertising, political campaigns and sometimes as human annotators,” he said. “These are widely believed to listen in on personal conversations and sell data to government agencies under national security acts.”

Waweru suggests these tips for social media privacy protection:

  • Don’t be too personal with your information. 
  • Watch your mailbox.
  • Use unique passwords. Avoid shared passwords for different social media platforms.
  • Use your passcode. Your threat could be seated next to you.

Data breaches have a numbing effect. Consumers are resigned to their fate—and irritated. 

“Breaches affect consumers in that users may experience identity theft, defamation, fraudulent activity on banking platforms and account cancellations on various platforms,” Waweru said. 

“This, in turn, takes away consumers’ trust, leading them to competitive alternatives,” he said. “Once the trust is broken it is hard to convince consumers to return to your platform. Social media platforms thrive on consumers’ levels of trust.”

He added this caution: “With social media, the more you trust, the more you give.”

Hidden identity with good intent

Those on social media might opt to be anonymous, but it ought to be for a good reason. If it’s to bully and bash with no consequences, that’s bad.

“Anonymity is both good and bad,” Waweru said. “Social media platforms thrive on ‘consumer responsibility’ not ‘consumer accountability.’

“The pros include freedom of speech without being attacked, less judgement, and whistleblowers are protected,” he said. “Cons include online abuse and making it easy to give false information—misinformation better known as ‘fake news’—with few repercussions.”

Maximize Data by Keeping it Personal

Personally, Waweru said social media aligns with his interests as a user.

“As a consumer you have to remember you are in control,” he said. “Social media ought to make your life convenient. Understand the business models of platforms you interact with to be well informed. Finding someone who knows details would be of great help.

“Protect your account,” Waweru said. “Social media should promote simplicity, ease of use, data privacy and convenience. It’s a collective effort between the consumers and the social media platforms. Responsibility and accountability are key to having a fantastic social media experience.”

He offered the cybersecurity equivalent of follow the money:

“Data is a form of currency. Serve and protect yourself first.”

Jim Katzaman Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services. A writer by trade, he graduated from Lebanon Valley College, Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He enlisted in the Air Force and served for 25 years in public affairs – better known in the civilian world as public relations. He also earned an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science in Public Affairs. Since retiring, he has been a consultant and in the federal General Service as a public affairs specialist. He also acquired life and health insurance licenses, which resulted in his present affiliation with Largo Financial Services. In addition to expertise in financial affairs, he gathers the majority of his story content from Twitter chats. This has led him to publish about a wide range of topics such as social media, marketing, sexual harassment, workplace trends, productivity and financial management. Medium has named him a top writer in social media.

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