Take control of your public profile: privacy experts

Dwight Fischer, Dalhousie's Chief Information Officer offers tips on protecting privacy data.  (Photo: Alison Chiang)
Dwight Fischer, Dalhousie’s Chief Information Officer offers tips on protecting privacy data.
(Photo: Alison Chiang)

“Every time I pick up the newspaper, there’s some sort of privacy component to it,” Alberta’s information and privacy commissioner told an audience of nearly 300 people — many of them toting tablets.

One of two keynote speakers Jill Clayton, calls for more transparency in privacy laws. She cites HRSDC losing 2000-2006 student loans information as a timely and relevant case.

And it’s not just the consumers but authorized users having unauthorized information Clayton says.

Clayton gives the example of an Alberta pharmacist who looked up a man’s personal information and posted it on Facebook. The pharmacist was subsequently fined $15,000 for her actions and had her licence revoked.

“Privacy is not necessarily restricting the collection of information but having control over your own information,” said Clayton.

This was the sixth Data Privacy Day for Dalhousie University Information Technology Services .  It’s affiliated with Data Protection Day in Europe and celebrates the 1981 international treaty on privacy and data protection. Since 2008, Data Privacy Day is commemorated on Jan. 28 in Canada and the US.

David Fraser, privacy lawyer at Dalhousie and the event’s moderator, said “the more people are aware of it, the more they can question.” Questioning keeps businesses and governments honest. He said privacy is a complicated issue with many components to it.

Simon Davies, influential privacy data expert discusses future trends in privacy data.
Simon Davies, influential privacy data expert, discusses future trends in privacy data. (Photo: Alison Chiang)

Second keynote speaker, Simon Davies from the London School of Economics, runs a watchdog group, Privacy International. He said that when posting anything, imagine it’s going public.

“Don’t be naïve to believe that your information is going to be secure. These networks are fundamentally insecure,” he said.   And it’s not just technical reason, he said, but social engineering. There are people who will figure out how to access your information.

Davies said new research shows that “geo-location” is the new frontier. This will become the new revenue for companies and more privacy concerns will emerge from it. Davies said geo-location essentially leads to association; who you are with, where you are, and what’s around you.

“At the moment, it’s just a dot on the map. In the future, it’s going to be a three dimensional, four dimensional process,” Davies said.

Dwight Fischer, assistant adviser and chief information officer at Dalhousie said a young person is a marketer’s ideal target. Fisher said through social media, “we’re leaving breadcrumbs of human activity around”. This leads to companies collecting a huge amount of information on people.

In response to this, Fischer offered three pieces of advice to safeguard data privacy:

  1. Be educated about who’s using your data and what the apps are doing with it
  2. Don’t just hit the Facebook ‘like ’ button. Companies will start bugging you with more questions and surveys to gather information.
  3. Disconnect sometimes.

Fischer said we have choices. He said there’s a culture change happening; people are now responsible for where they keep and post their information. At the same time, universities should involve students to ensure there’s governance of data.

John Bullock, information security manager at Dalhousie and the event’s main organizer, said many people aren’t well-educated on privacy issues.

He said posting personal information is akin to “speeding on the highway and we think we’ll get away with it. One day, it catches up to us.”

“Once they’ve had something bad happen to them, they’ll change their mind,” he said.

Bullock said people can protect themselves by restricting the personal information they provide online, such as their address and birthday.

Ceilidh Smith, the event coordinator a business administration student said the main theme of Data Privacy Day is giving people the right tools to protect themselves and their information.

Smith said schools and employers all examine a person’s digital footprint.

“It’s not just first impressions in person anymore. It’s first impression in the digital world as well,” she said.

Chantal de Medeiros, a Dalhousie master’s student in library information management, said she attended the event to find out more about security options on Facebook and Twitter. De Medeiros is relatively new to smartphones but feels that data privacy is an important topic.

“I’m slowly starting to get more paranoid but not so paranoid that I don’t want to leave my house,” she said. De Medeiros said there’s so much technology out there that it’s important to safeguard our personal information.

Some things are still new to her such as the cloud-based storage systems maintained by Amazon and Apple.

“I’m sure in time I’ll be using that and I’ll understand a bit more. I’m definitely more aware,” she said.