Data Privacy Day: How to protect your data online

The 28th of January is Data Privacy Day and the conclusion of the first-ever International Data Privacy Week.

The goal of Data Privacy Week is to spread awareness about online privacy and educate users on managing their personal information. The Day also encourages businesses to be more transparent about how they gather consumers' data and how they use it.

South Africa is experiencing a rise in cybercrime and it seems that amid these attacks South Africans are becoming more concerned with how businesses use their data. A study conducted by the University of South Africa found that 83% of the respondents are concerned about protecting their data. Furthermore, 94% were especially worried about safeguarding their identity.  

“Businesses are aware of customers’ growing concerns about data privacy and are responding accordingly,” adds de Villiers. Many businesses take privacy and data security seriously, but individuals also play an important role in protecting their data.

Here are some steps that individuals can take to protect their privacy online:

Make informed decisions

Many websites and mobile applications request permission to access your personal information in exchange for using their services, but few users fully understand the significance of such trade-offs.

“Some say data is as valuable or more valuable than oil. Your data certainly has value for businesses,” explains de Villiers.

Consider the amount of personal information they ask for and weigh it against the benefits you may receive in return. Be wary of applications that seem to be overstepping. There is no reason a simple game needs access to your contacts, photo gallery or location. Ensure every app or website you use only has access to the information required for their services. In addition, uninstall apps you no longer use and keep your apps and software up to date to protect yourself against vulnerabilities.

Stay in charge

Check the privacy and security settings on web services and applications that you use. Once you are satisfied with their security measures, decide how much and what you would like to share. Furthermore, your mobile device and browser are now designed with privacy in mind and offer various levels of privacy settings to help you stay in charge.

Protect your data

Data privacy and data security are intertwined. Adopting good security practices can help protect your privacy. Choosing strong, unique passwords for your applications and services is a good start. According to Statista, passwords that are at least eight letters long and combine an uppercase with a number and special characters are the hardest to crack—even for machines.  Consider using multi-factor authentication (MFA) as an additional security layer, which can block up to 99.99% of automated assaults even in the case of a data breach. 

However, individual responsibility does not absolve businesses of their responsibility vis-a-vis customers. The South African POPI Act is not without teeth. Companies face fines of up to R10 million or jail time for non-compliance. 

“Instead of fearing punishment, businesses should focus on the benefits. Globally, companies that protect the privacy of their customers see it as a competitive advantage, and it helps to limit the damage caused by breaches,” concludes de Villiers.