A 2019 review of internet street smarts

Part one in a series on staying safe in the digital world.

A new piece of legislation, a “do not call” list, an app … these and more are often promoted as silver bullets to protect our privacy. But acknowledging the sheer frequency of debilitating data breach news pushed to my smartphone, I think the efficacy of these solutions are yet to be proven.

We, the real-world denizens, put up many a wall next to the digital world – aka internet or the cloud – to prevent the nefarious from coming through. At the same time, we utilize our 21st-century life skills of “digital literacy” to perform many everyday activities in the digital world.

What the digital world offers outweighs the potential risks emanating from nefarious actors exploiting those same benefits but for their ill gains. So rather than becoming complacent and numb to these frequent data breaches that threaten our right to privacy, we need to take ownership of what we “can” control.

For example when data breaches are reported, use your digital literacy skills to navigate to the victimized entity’s website where you should be able to find advisories of actions you can take – such as credit monitoring. It may also list important numbers to call, although I prefer email or even chat (if offered) right on their website because it leaves a written trail.

For companies that have been victims of a data breach, relying on propagating the latest information using digital-world tools such as their website can be a catch-22 proposition when certain demographics of our population are concerned. Yet it is a sure-fire way to reach audiences quickly, repeatedly and with updated information. It has become a societal norm that is augmenting, or even replacing, hardcopy letter mailings, making digital literacy that much more valuable.

A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, restricts access to your credit report to prevent identity theft and is another tool in your arsenal. You may even want to consider evoking it before any more news of data breaches are reported. Ill-gained bounties from these data breaches are systemic and nefarious actors can aggregate your personally identifiable information tidbits from multiple breaches to compose a more complete profile of victims for exploitation.

Although robocalls can be perceived more as annoyances than risk, there have been documented cases where people end up being victimized. What to do?

You already possess an effective tool, a learning machine that is far more capable than any silver bullet that scientists have been studying for decades to mimic this “tool” every single one of us possess: our brain and the way it can learn good habits.

In the case of robocalls, for example, not answering calls from unsolicited or unrecognized numbers is a good habit you can nurture. After all, if you learned to toss junk mail without even opening the envelopes, you surely can build tolerance to ignore unsolicited and unknown calls, emails, etc.

When matters of the digital world are concerned, think twice before doing something out of “convenience.” I’ll explain more about what I mean by this in part two of this series. Stay tuned!

Tak Sato

Strategist and technologist with almost 30 years of experience in the private sector. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and Executive MBA from Cleveland State University.

As Founder of the Center for Aging in the Digital World, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit empowering seniors with digital literacy, Tak connects the dots to help people utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

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Volume 11, Issue 12, Posted 9:40 AM, 06.18.2019