Innovate September 2018

Protecting Your Digital Identity


Written By: Ana Jelacic

In the 21st century, protecting your digital identity is essential.

You have two identities, your real one and your digital one. Many websites you visit save information about you and sell it to third parties interested in marketing to people with certain traits or preferences.

What is the big deal and how does this even concern you?

Website’s profile you based on your preferences in things such as food, movies, sites you visit, webpages and platforms on which you have accounts. The more accurately your digital profile reflects you, the easier it is for businesses to connect to the real you.

A new area of research has emerged — Targeted Advertising for Personal Surveillance (ADINT). This research studies the “anonymous metadata” that websites collect about people.

A team of University of Washington graduate students studied how third parties are using digital ads to extract private information about people. As you are searching for information, advertisers can target you based on your location. Your digital identity can track your location and advertise to you.

Mobile Advertising ID (MAID) uniquely identifies a particular device for advertising similar to the way “tracking cookies” are used in browsers. It’s just dawning on many of us that our tracking data is being collected most of the time.

As technology advances, we have to face the reality that what we used to consider private is slowly becoming a remnant of the past. Data has created our digital identities. They can either work for us or against us, but we should not fear them.

How should you protect yourself?

Although you can’t erase your digital identity, it’s important to understand what data about us is being collected, how it flows and what privacy concerns we should have about our digital lives.

Protecting our privacy isn’t just the responsibility of companies and of legislation. We carry the ultimate responsibility for managing and sharing our data with the rest of the world.

Things you can do to guard against hacks include:

  • Only type personal info on secured websites. Do you ever see a green lock to the left of the URL of a website? This means the data you send is encrypted (secured) in transit to the website.
  • A secure website isn’t always a trusted website. It’s great that a secure website protects your data on the way to it. Now what if the website sells the information you just gave it? Always be mindful of what information you give and to whom you give it.
  • Use password managers. A password manager helps you generate strong passwords that are encrypted and stored, and when you want to log in into an app, it knows what password you are using for that website and it fills it for you.
  • Make sure to use a very strong password and two-factor authentication (2FA) for your password manager – authentication by more than just something you know, such as a password.
  • Two-step verification services are useful for ensuring your data is safe. Always opt for one if you have a chance when creating an account on a platform.

As technology advances, we have to face the reality that what we used to consider private is slowly becoming a remnant of the past. Data has created our digital identities. They can either work for us or against us, but we should not fear them.

We can’t escape the new reality. Rather, we should fully utilize its powers in our favor, but cautiously.

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