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Maintaining Privacy in a Digital World

Pokémon Go is taking the world by storm, but it has come with controversy over digital privacy. The developer, Niantic Inc., required users to disclose immense amounts of private information and data in return for playing the world’s biggest mobile game. Not only does the application track location data and have access to a user’s camera, but it allows Niantic to access all the information in a user’s Google account including their calendar, emails, saved files, and login information.

The developers have since patched the game to minimize this data collection, but it’s a reminder to us all of the dangers to privacy in a digital age. The issue is that Pokémon Go is not alone in its practices of collecting personal information. “Free” applications come at the cost of personal data, which is sold to third-party organizations for advertising. Consumers today frequently expect free or extremely low-cost entertainment, so companies choose to monetize their content via data collection. There are, however, a couple of steps consumers can take in order to improve privacy and security online.

Checking the existing security of online accounts is essential. The Wall Street Journal suggests Have I Been Pwned?, a website that searches whether or not an email address or other information is linked to the selling of usernames and passwords by hackers. Buyers beware with sites like these. Many similar websites profit from cybercrime and prey upon individuals as they try to protect themselves. As a rule of thumb, never give a site your password or pay for security analysis. In the event of a compromised account, be sure to change passwords immediately and update other security measures such as recovery questions.

Making stronger passwords is a quick step towards increasing online security. The longer and more obscure the password, the harder to it is to hack. Mixing capitalization, numbers, and special characters into a password can vastly improve its security. Furthermore, avoid generic or easily-guessed concepts such as “password”, “qwerty”, or a favorite sports team for passwords. Finally, make sure not to duplicate passwords whenever possible. If a data breach does occur, the information from one account could compromise others and send you scrambling to hit the reset button on your entire online presence.

Whenever possible, use two-factor authentication to protect online accounts. Multifactor authentication is widely regarded by security experts as one of the best ways to protect data. This may seem like a hassle, but the extra step goes a long way towards protecting private information, especially data relating to banking and identity.

For mobile devices and applications, users can manage the access to information by going into the settings page in an iPhone or Android device. Many third party applications use Google and Facebook accounts as authentication and will have similar policies as Pokémon Go did. If you ever feel wary of the collection practices, be smart and click ‘no’.

Technology has opened up seemingly unlimited possibilities, but online identities are open to many potential risks. A couple of small steps can vastly improve security and protect your identity.