Data Privacy and Cybersafety concerns amidst COVID-19

With many challenges that COVID-19 has brought in our lives, social distancing has become unavoidable. Resultantly, all kinds of lifestyle, education, and business activities are dependent on virtual services. Be it business meetings, conferences seminars, or online classes for children, everyone is dependent on various services, apps, and websites that provide their premium offerings without charging a single penny or charging way less. In the times when there are no free lunches and considering the big infrastructure and maintenance costs for running such services, sites, and apps, it should not be difficult to understand off-course there are alternative ways of monetization. And, in my experience, most of such activities need data generated by the use of the services, platform, and apps in some or the other way for generating their revenues.  

But, in this complex world can a simple signup up and login take away all your issues and concerns? Well, the answer is yes and no. Yes, because technology simplifies various processes, like online learning for students who cannot be in physical classrooms at the moment. It enables you to do business and participate in business meetings etc. And, now even medical consultations are being sought online.

No, because, using virtual medium has its vulnerabilities that need to be cautiously dealt with or you may end up in a troublesome situation. There are various points of concern for a regular user using the internet, the primary being the risk of falling cyber-attacks or Data Privacy breach.   

Cyber Attacks

While, literally speaking, cyber-attacks sound like something very heavy, but we are attacked by cybercriminals very frequently. Want proof?

Go and check your spam box, I am sure at least you will find at least half a dozen emails giving you undisclosed money, gifting you a lottery, giving you coupons of some big brand or sextortion emails blackmailing you claiming they have your private images or videos. Not everyone is aware to realize these are some of the attempts to identity theft, pharming, or extorting money from you.  Even, the free movies, games, or apps that you download from a shady site put you at a greater risk of something as serious as pharming.

As per reports, In the last two months cyber-attacks globally have increased with an increase in the number of people who are opting to go online. Adding to it is our casual approach or lack of alertness while entering data on unknown or unverified apps or websites.

What you can do?

Don’t use shady apps or services for saving a few bucks on some movies, apps, or software. Moreover, always be conscious of the details you are providing to any service. Never click a link from an unverified or spam email or SMS as you might end up losing your money or getting your accounts hijacked.  Keep the webcams etc. on shutter mode or if you don’t have a shutter on your device then you can use something else to cover it. Switch off your smart assistants when you don’t need them as they hear you as well. Be very cautious and check the link to be genuine when using internet banking or making online transactions. Don’t share your OTP’s with anybody as no financial institution requires it. If you think that you are a victim of cybercrime, immediately reach out to the police in your jurisdiction.

Data Privacy

At the time of installing an application, accessing a website, or signing up for a service, most of the users seldom read through the terms of usage, privacy policy, or end-user license agreement. Typically, we rush to click that I agree or I accept tab without even realizing, how that particular service is going to use the user data, with whom it will be shared, or what is the level of safety protocols a particular service maintains.  I am sure, if you read through the terms and conditions and privacy policies of most such apps and services, you will think again to sign up or install such services.  One proof of how fast your data travels is that as soon as you start using your email ID’s to signup, you start receiving marketing emails from not just the services you signed up with but also from various third parties.

Another way to realize, how closely your online activities are monitored is the moment you search for something on the internet, download a particular app on your device, various independent services keep a tab on such activities, and start showing you targeted ads. Thus the biggest name in the IT industry, the social media giants everyone try to collect a lot of data about what you do online

These are just a few examples of how your online activities are monitored and, businesses make real money out of it.

What you can do?

The hard truth is that the biggest tech companies want you to feel that they are concerned about your privacy but they don’t give you strong tools for opting out of data collection. For instance, privacy settings may let you control whether you see targeted ads, but that doesn’t affect whether a company collects and stores information about you.

You can reduce, but not eliminate, online tracking by likes of Facebook, Google, and other companies by using ad blockers or anti-tracking software. You can further enhance your privacy by limiting the amount of information you volunteer online about yourself and members of your family. Read through the privacy terms while signing up on a service or review the already granted permissions.

Other tricks that might work for you are: Using different email addresses for different services or even using different browsers. And if it’s convenient you can also use VPN services to prevent even ISP’s to store your activities.

One negligent act can make the most bankable option, the most unreliable one!

Thus, a user should be vigilant and reasonably updated while using the internet, more so now when the internet seems to be the most bankable option for all our essential activities. An important practice is to be updated about your legal rights under the applicable laws. For any concerns you must always take the help of a professional.

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