Thursday, January 29, 2009

Personal data safe? Microsoft's Data Privacy Day

Microsoft invaded traditionally Hallmark turf earlier this week with their "Data Privacy Day" public-awareness campaign. The software giant encourages us to think about how we reveal personal information in a fun, if not somewhat corny, online quiz.

The quiz, which not surprisingly didn't work well in my Firefox browser, asks questions about your online activities and ranks your performance between "Your cover's blown" to "You're in deep cover", complete with secret agent icons.

Now, don't expect this campaign to change your world, make you a security and/or privacy expert... but it does serve as a great reminder that there are risks to sharing your personal information with online sites.

Here are some important tips to remember everyday, not just the so-called "Data Privacy Day":
  • Be aware of what information you are sharing and how it will be used. If in doubt, refuse to give it out.
  • Review a website's privacy policy and site terms. Sure, they're long legal documents and often a checkbox away from getting what you came for... but these agreements contain important details about what a website may and may not do with your data. (Of course, scrupulous sites will take advantage of your data anyway!)
  • Review your accounts, passwords, and social networking profiles often for revealing (and incorrect) information.
  • Change your passwords often. When was the last time you changed a password? Do it now!
  • Be careful what you click. Emails may contain attachments that are ticking time bombs, websites that look sketchy -- probably are. And the IRS will never send you unsolicited email. A healthy dose of skepticism could save your identity and major headaches to follow.

Microsoft has also released a much-less corny video documentary with some solid recent data about online privacy from a variety of perspectives. It's five minutes, but worth watching. (Use some of that time you save each time you quickly and click 'Accept' on a website's privacy policy.)

My Privacy: Safely Navigating Life Online

For more information, visit Microsoft's "Data Privacy Day" website. While you're joining me in a collective eye-roll at the idea of a Microsoft holiday -- if you really want to get into the spirit of things -- hop on over to my Amazon wishlist and feel free to buy me a Data Privacy Day gift. (What, you didn't know buying me presents was part of Data Privacy Day?!?)

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