Consumer Alert

Wondering What to do on Data Privacy Day

In recognition of Data Privacy Day, the Consumer Protection Unit reminds Alaska residents to protect their personal and communications data by encrypting their wireless Internet networks and by checking their privacy settings on social networking sites.

Many computer users leave themselves vulnerable to financial fraud or privacy invasions by failing to activate the encryption feature on their wireless routers. Consumers also frequently reveal personal data to the public when using social networking sites like Facebook.

The Consumer Protection Unit recommends these three steps for ensuring that you don't unintentionally compromise your personal information:

1. Know your privacy settings.

A recent industry study found that 21 percent of adult social network users are leaving their profiles open for anyone to see. That's about 24 million Americans.

The same study found that 70 million people have shared their birthplace on social networking sites and 20 million provided their pet's name. Those are the same details that people are often asked to provide to verify their identity when setting up bank accounts.

If you post vacation updates on an open site, you're telling the world – and possibly a burglar – that your home is vacant. There's also your reputation to consider. According to a 2009 study, 70 percent of human resources professionals have rejected a candidate based on what they found out about the person by searching online.

2. Configure your wireless router to encrypt data.

Activate your router's encryption feature to better ensure information you transmit over the Web – such as account logins, passwords and credit card numbers -- are scrambled.

Read the instructions that come with your wireless router to determine how to turn on the encryption feature. Two main types of encryption are available: WiFi Protected Access (WPA) and Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP). Your computer, router, and other equipment must use the same encryption. WPA2 is strongest; use it if you have a choice.

Change your router's hardware identifier and preset password so a hacker can't use the defaults to try to access your network. Of course, you should also use anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a firewall. For help configuring your router, visit OnGuard Online's Wireless Security page.

3. Don't assume that public "hot spots" are secure.

Café, hotel and airport "hot spots" are convenient, but assume that other people can see anything you see or send over a public wireless network.

Data Privacy Day, internationally recognized on Jan. 28, brings together businesses, individuals, government agencies, nonprofit groups and academics to spotlight how personal data is collected, used and stored.

Privacy Resources:

Consumer Protection Unit
February 2011