In today’s highly interconnected digital world, it has become quite easy and tempting to share our lives. The risks of oversharing and privacy breaches are serious. Thus, it is crucial to understand the importance of maintaining a reasonable level of online privacy, and choosing consciously and wisely what we share with the global audience of online users. Learn more about online privacy and its importance below.
Many of us may not think twice when it comes to our online privacy. In today’s highly interconnected digital world, all the possibilities are open, so it is essential to be cautious with our privacy settings, and what we consciously choose to share.

Why is it important?

If we are not careful with what we share, we may unknowingly expose ourselves to serious online harm such as cyberstalking, cybergrooming, phishing, spam, scams, harassment, identity theft/fraud,and other serious harms.

  • This is especially true if we share personal information. What is personal information?
  • Personal information is any information or combination of information that allows a person to be identified
  • Personal information is used by many businesses for legitimate communication and needs to be communicated by the business.
  • However this is not always the case and some personal information can be misused by criminals or inappropriately by marketers or social media connections.
  • Personal information includes full name, address, passwords, phone numbers, birthday, name of school, name of workplace, future plans, bank account information, etc.
  • Personal information is valuable money to online criminals. Such criminals can piece together personal information to steal an individual’s identity, access his/her bank account information, use credit cards, or even take loans pretending to be the stolen identity.
  • In addition to inappropriate or illegal use of information, disclosing personal information online can impact a user’s digital reputation

A major threat to online privacy is ”oversharing”, What is oversharing?

  • Oversharing can mean giving out personal and even general details about yourself or others. 
  • Oversharing is especially common among children and teens as they are more comfortable socializing online (real world vs. virtual world). Yet, adults, not only kids and teens, can also overshare.
  • That added level of comfort can allow for oversharing of personal information (pictures, information about their daily routines, family life etc).
  • Oversharing, easily exposes users’ to potentially become victims of cyberbullying or cyber-grooming

We must be alert and conscious about how much we are sharing online, to the global audience of digital citizens.

  • Just imagine this scenario: a post that may have been shared impulsively by X, may trigger user Y at the opposite end of the world. Just imagine that this reckless post by X angered Y so much that Y sets his/her mind to harm X by identity theft; hacking X’s account and stealing his/her personal identity and bank information. Y may have a serious mental health condition that X is unaware off, making Y’s plan to harm X obsessive.

This is just one example of what can go wrong. In fact, it is deemed that our physical safety and security is directly correlated with our online privacy in today’s digital world

It’s easy to assume that “it will never happen to us”, yet even well-known companies have fallen victims to hacks and scams. What steps can we proactively take to protect our personal information and our privacy from being breached?


Awareness

  • Raise awareness about where and how personal information is available online.
  • Remember that almost anyone can potentially access personal information, including criminals
  • Make sure to at least skim the terms and conditions prior to agreeing to online services and platforms. Usually, these services state within the terms that they require users to provide some personal information in order to use their service.
  • Prior to providing personal information, it is important to be in control. Think about what can be done with the personal information and assess whether it is worth compromising.
  • Be aware of what personal information has been disclosed, and where. It is useful to keep a record.
  • Be aware of the signs that privacy has been breached:

For example, if credit card information was stolen, the signs would be charges that weren’t made by the cardholder; if an email address was stolen, signs may include a greater amount of spam.

 Financial information

  • Only disclose financial information on secure websites. 
  • If in doubt about the legitimacy of a website, call the organization it claims to represent. 
  • Banking institutions will never email individuals asking for their user name or password. 
  • Check banking statements regularly to detect potential identity theft early on.

It’s easy to assume that “it will never happen to us”, yet even well-known companies have fallen victims to hacks and scams. What steps can we proactively take to protect our personal information and our privacy from being breached?

Privacy Precautions

  • Check the default privacy settings on apps and sites used and set them according to preference. Remember that the less revealed, the better.
  • Make sure to use strong passwords on all digital devices used. Never share passwords with anyone and change them regularly. Avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.
  • Keep a private primary e-mail address only for online work and networking with trusted people from ‘real life’. Create another secondary e-mail address to use for online shopping, newsletters and other activities that may involve strangers.
  • Avoid signing up for mailing and marketing lists, or use the secondary email for such purposes.
  • Disenable or limit sharing location services to close friends and when necessary, as with transportation or delivery apps. Most social networking sites have location services on by default, which allows user to track each other’s locations.
  • Install anti-virus software and run scans on digital devices (smartphones, computers, tablets, etc.)
  • Keep smartphones updated – install operating system updates regularly to enhance protection
  • Always try to use a non-descriptive image or alias as a profile icon. Avoid using personal pictures that make it easier to identify the user.
  • Limit connections and friend/followers list only to trusted friends and family. It is advisable to avoid accepting 'friend‘ requests from strangers that are not friends from ‘real life’. Be cautious with online users as it is easy to pretend to be someone else. Clean up the followers and following list regularly to make sure they are all trusted contacts.
  • Only use a webcam with trusted family and friends, never with strangers.
  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi, especially from unknown sources, as the risk of privacy breaches is increased.
  • Avoid ‘oversharing’ and revealing personal details (Your full name, address, phone number, password plans, birthdate, banking information). There are some aspects of our lives that are best communicated in person.
  • Last but not least, protect your digital footprint and online reputation. Think before you post, chat, upload or download.
  • If we have nothing nice to say then we probably shouldn’t say anything at all.
  • We should ask ourselves if it would be okay for our moms or other family members to see what we upload before posting. If the answer is no, then we probably shouldn’t be posting it at all.

How can we handle situations in which our privacy is breached?

If it is suspected that our privacy has been breached (for example, a major shopping department store where we frequently shop, has had their data breached by hackers, or we may simply notice suspicious activity in our bank account) we must immediately:

  • Try to identify what has been stolen or breached to act accordingly (Is it an email address password, bank account information, identity?)
  • Contact bank / financial institutions and inform them of the incident to block the account.
  • Change passwords
  • Notify relevant websites.
  • Report to local authorities/, eCrime UAE. There are serious legal implications and fines on cybercrimes and privacy breaches both in the UAE and around the world. The UAE has clear laws and severe penalties against privacy breaches. Click here to learn more on laws and regulations pertaining to digital safety.