January 28 is an international holiday* focused on raising awareness about the importance of online data privacy. This year, the Electronic Freedom Frontier is emphasizing the need to protect student privacy, most notably in a Google Apps for Education environment (which includes us). Google has been especially criticized for how they handle data from K-12 students, but it’s worth reviewing what they say for college students also and anyone else who uses Google apps.
If you haven’t done so, it’s worth a few minutes of your time to run through the Google Privacy Checkup. This will present options for what profile information other people can see about you, what settings apply to Google sites like Photos and You Tube, and whether Google will use what they know about your interest to tailor ads for you (you can turn off that tailoring, but not the ads themselves – at least not without something like AdBlock Plus).
Google has grown into a massive set of applications that know a lot about you. To their credit, the My Account site does a pretty good job of offering and explaining options for how that data gets collected and used.
Mozilla.org has also posted some information for Data Privacy Day. Their message boils down to: update your software. Time and again, malware that mines your private data gets in through security holes in outdated software that have already been patched in the current version. In other words, if you’re currently ignoring an alert to upgrade to Firefox 44, you should upgrade to Firefox 44.
Some other good places to check privacy settings:
- Amazon (select “Edit Privacy Settings” from the dropdown menu)
- Chrome [Three line “hamburger icon”] / Settings / Show Advanced Settings / Privacy (Pro tip: under Content Settings, make sure “Block third-party cookies and site data” is checked)
- Firefox [Hamburger icon] / Settings / Privacy (Accept third party cookies: Never)