Spring season is a popular time for people to refresh or redecorate living spaces inside or outside their homes. However, the one area many people overlook while decluttering isn’t the corner of a room or forgotten closet but their digital devices. Whether preferring to use a phone, laptop or tablet, consumers are turning to their digital devices to shop, bank and work, as well as connect with friends and family through social media every day. During each online session, every website visited, advertisement watched, or product purchased contributes to a user’s digital footprint. That is why the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and Better Business Bureau (BBB) recommend consumers spend the time to include a digital cleaning routine in addition to refreshing their physical spaces.
A digital footprint (or digital shadow) is a record of an individual’s online activity that grows when they deliberately share something online or when websites and apps track their online activity. Registering email addresses with newsletters, subscriptions or memberships, downloading mobile apps, and sharing information over social media all contribute to a user’s digital footprint and provide the data advertising agencies use to create targeted campaigns. While this helps consumers receive information or advertisements tailored to their individual preferences or interests, it can also increase the risk of compromised personal information.
Taking a few simple, preventative measures to safeguard personal information and reducing the size of their digital footprint can prevent consumers from losing control of their data and experiencing identity theft.
Exercise good cybersecurity habits. Become familiar with the five-step approach to cybersecurity: identify, protect, detect, respond and recover. Be cautious when interacting with links received through email or social media. Make it a habit to check for the ‘lock’ icon in a website address that indicates it is a secured system before making an online purchase. Protect your most vital accounts by enabling the strongest authentication tools available, such as biometrics, security keys or a unique one-time code through an app on your mobile device.
Update your system and software: As simple as it is to click ‘remind me later’ when notified there is an update for your computer system, maintaining an up-to-date system is crucial. Having the most current software, web browsers and operating systems is some of the easiest and fastest ways to protect your most sensitive assets.
Browser privacy. Many websites use files called cookies to personalize user experiences and provide targeted ads. Website browsers, such as Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Microsoft Edge, allow users to adjust their privacy settings and delete or manage cookies. Changes made on one device do not carry over to other devices, so adjust these settings on any device you use to access the internet.
Smartphone privacy. Most mobile devices allow users to control whether they receive targeted ads based on app usage and browsing activity. Settings include: resetting advertising identifiers, tracking control, location control and ad personalization. Toggling these settings will change the permissions of apps and browsers used on a mobile device. The Digital Advertising Alliance and the Network Advertising Initiative also have free opt-out tools for consumers who wish to stop receiving targeted advertisements. Learn more about adjusting privacy settings for your devices at FTC.gov.
Clean up your online presence: Look through your phone and tablet to determine what apps you regularly use and which you haven’t opened for an extended time. Do you still need or use the app? What type of information and systems on your device does the app require access to and why? Take control of your accounts and make sure you know who has administrative access and what they can change or access.
In addition to following these tips, business owners should take time to establish, update and communicate policies and procedures regarding their employee’s internet use on company devices. It is essential that a cybersecurity strategy is in place and used by all employees to prevent data breaches. Visit BBB.org/BizHQ for tips on how to safeguard your customer’s information.
ABOUT BBB: The Better Business Bureau has empowered people to find businesses, brands and charities they can trust for over 110 years. In 2022, people turned to BBB more than 250 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million businesses and Charity Reports on about 12,000 charities, all available for free at BBB.org. Local, independent BBBs can be found across the United States, Canada, and Mexico, including BBB serving the Heart of Texas which was founded in 1950 and serves 105 counties across Texas