Learn how to take back control of your information.
Data privacy continues to be a major concern for many Americans. The Pew Research Center reported the following results after surveying respondents about data privacy:
- 79% worried about the way their data was being used by companies1
- 81% felt they have little or no control over the data collected2
- 70% thought their personal information was less secure than it was five years ago3
It’s understandable if you share these sentiments. While the data collected has the potential to provide users with benefits—such as improving efficiency, customizing experiences and promoting better health—there are significant risks involved, too. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the volume of data being collected every day and to feel powerless to stop it.
That’s especially true as newer technologies that collect personal data become more pervasive in our lives, including voice-activated devices, wearables and facial recognition software.
Data privacy is a broad term used to describe the proper way to collect, share, use and retain data. This data could be compiled or maintained by a company, government agency, healthcare provider or other types of organizations.
As the data economy has grown, lawmakers have increasingly sought to regulate transparency into how personal data is used and to clearly define the rights of individuals. Recent legislation, in some countries and states, includes the following actions designed to protect and empower users:
- The right to be forgotten, which permits you to have your stored data deleted
- The right to access, which allows you to request a copy of the data an organization keeps about you
- The right to opt-in or out, which gives you the option of sharing or not sharing your information
The data you share about yourself is valuable to others. Entities can use it to market their products or services, prescribe medical treatments, determine your creditworthiness or perform other activities.
Data sharing isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as you know what you’re sharing, with whom and for what purpose.
Fortunately, you can assume greater control of your data privacy by taking the following actions.
Limit app permissions: When you grant an app access to your photos, location, camera, contacts and other information, it makes your data available to the app owner.
So, be discerning before giving an app permission to access your information. While it’s not always obvious why an app may need a permission, applying a little logic goes a long way. For example, it makes sense that your map app wants to know your location. But, why would your flashlight app need it? Keep in mind that apps may still work even if all permissions aren’t granted.
Lock down social media accounts: Cybercriminals often harvest information shared on social media accounts in order to perpetrate fraud. So, make safeguarding your accounts a priority. Don’t rely on the default security settings to protect your privacy. Instead, take a moment to customize your security to a level that’s acceptable to you.
The National Cyber Security Alliance makes this task easier by providing direct links to the user privacy settings for many popular social media accounts, as well as other online providers.
Secure sensitive documents: Even in an increasingly digital world, paper documents still have a place in our lives. Make sure to safely store any paper documents that contain personally identifiable information (PII) and shred these documents before discarding them.
What’s considered to be PII? This generally refers to information that can be used to identify or locate an individual directly (such as your name, address, phone number or Social Security number) or indirectly (such as your gender, race and birth date). When cybercriminals cobble together enough elements of your PII, they can steal your identity and commit fraud.
Disclose PII selectively: It can be surprising how often you’re asked to provide your PII (especially your Social Security number). Don’t be afraid to withhold it, ask the requesting organization if it’s absolutely necessary to release your PII or how the organization intends to protect it. Remember, it’s your information.
This caution should extend to medical offices. In 2019, there were 525 medical and healthcare data breaches, exposing more than 39 million sensitive records, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.6
Consider disabling cookies: A cookie is a small bit of text file that can be used to identify you, as well as track your movements online. While cookies often improve your online experience, they can lead to a privacy threat. For greater security, you can choose to disable cookies, or select which ones are acceptable to you.
Frequently clearing your cookie cache or browser histories can also limit the amount of data collected about you online. Some browser plugins— which are software tools that allow you to customize your web browser—can be effective at improving your privacy online, too.
Understand your privacy rights and choices: Even after you have shared your data, you may be able to influence how it is used. Most countries have some laws that allow citizens to guide how corporations use their data in specific instances. Recently, some states and jurisdictions have granted residents greater rights in addition to those they have nationally.
Americans are able to limit robo-calls from telemarketers by adding their phone numbers on the national do not call registry. They are also able to opt out of certain email marketing campaigns with unsubscribe links at the bottom of their emails. Limiting use of your data can minimize your exposure to campaigns designed to collect even more data.
We respect your concerns about data privacy and pledge to continue to protect the information you share with us.
For example, we comply with strict legal and regulatory requirements regarding data privacy, and only provide your personal information when it’s permitted or required by law with companies that perform services on our behalf, or with our affiliates.
Importantly, we don’t sell your information to third parties, such as data brokers. Data brokers collect sensitive information about you—including your date of birth, home address, phone number, job title, education level, political-party affiliation, hobbies and buying habits—and then sell it to companies interested in marketing their products or services to you.
For more information, please consult our Privacy Pledge or visit Morgan Stanley Online.