Why data protection should matter to you

If you have a phone, a passport or pass card then data protection matters to you

Today is Data Protection Day, which is an interesting concept. The idea is that our attention is drawn to the power of our personal data and that we take stock of what is 'out there' about us. It provides an opportunity for us to consider data protection and privacy on a national and global scale. This conversation has never been more relevant than in 2017. 

Let's start the conversation with you. 

Are you a smartphone user? Do you have a supermarket loyalty card? Have you ever left the country? If the answer to any of these questions is 'yes', then you have a data trail. The size of this trail depends on how careful you are with your information. This isn't scaremongering, it's just how it is. 

Last year, ahead of data protection day, I data-mined myself. I put together a document containing the various pieces of information I could find about myself. Even though I'd like to think of myself as being tech savvy, I was surprised by the level of information I found. 

From a few basic searches I found the area of Dublin where I live, how I commute to work, where I went to college and information about my family. As I dug a little deeper, I was able to find where I do my weekly shop, identify lifestyle trends from my social media and even what brand of kettle I own. 

This is all from information that I willingly posted online. 

What information could I find if I searched for you? Do you keep your location on when you Tweet from your home? Do you post photos from your sitting room on Instagram? Is your phone number associated with your Facebook profile?

Companies

The information listed above is accessible from a simple Google search - but what do companies know about you? If you have a supermarket loyalty card, the chances the supermarket has a very good idea about the type of person you are. If you have a mobile phone, your network will know if you're more of a texter than a talker. 

Then there's the whole "what Google knows about you" conversation. 

This is information we have quite literally typed out for the firm. They make money off the back of it by delivering tailored ads to your home screen. There's an interesting site called "Deseat.me", which gives users the ability to remove their Gmail address from online databases. 

And this is just the stuff we know about.

Trump

Hacking, leaks and surveillance are all terms that have become part of the norm in recent months and years. The questions over the US Presidential election and concerns over President Trump's attitude towards surveillance are worrying. 

As citizens, we are powerless as this conversation goes on around us. It's important that we pay attention to it, however, as it does impact us. When you have former members of the CIA and FBI stating they cover their webcams, for example, it makes you wonder "are we being watched?" If so, what harm? 

The issue cybersecurity and the threat of cyber warfare are not far-fetched fears.

Control

So, what - if anything - can be done? You or I won't impact the global conversation about cybersecurity, but we can take control of our personal data. Small steps such as a lock on your smartphone, a secure password and a clampdown on oversharing on social media can make a difference.

In the era of hacking and phishing, we need to be smart about our personal cyber safety. Don't click on links from unknown sources, don't give your card information to anyone and always contact your service provider if you fear you've fallen victim to a scam.