Post originally featured on The Haven Coworking blog.

Data Privacy is one of those ‘buzzword’ concepts that we all hear about and know we should be thinking about, but we aren’t exactly sure what the heck it means to us.

…specifically in our day to day lives. It’s more important than ever to learn about and educate yourself on what data privacy means for you, your business, and even your family.

In a nutshell, data privacy is the term that encompasses the laws, regulations, and practices around the collection, use, access, and retention of personally identifiable information (PII) or proprietary intellectual property (IP). While there are technical safeguards that help support data privacy, a significant component of data privacy is educating yourself, as well as understanding policies that ensure that our right to privacy is an ingratiated part of our culture. This includes protection within our homes, schools, businesses, and communities. 

Now that access to data is instant, we as individuals need to take control of how and when our data is shared and make choices about what we choose to share. At every click of the mouse, we’re being asked for our information. Whether you are signing up for a fitness class, requesting a medical appointment, or submitting an online profile, personal details are being requested of us. This is information that companies don’t necessarily need, but want. You have the right to omit this–a right that you should exercise.

Here’s a sixty-second sample: 

Last week I was filling out a medical intake form and it asked for my employer name, address, and phone number. I think nothing of it and fill out the entire form and turn it back to the staff. I’ve just found out a close friend had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, so my mind is pre-occupied and distant, which gives the appearance to the staff that I’m uncaring and rude.

Now that I’ve filled out my form and submitted it, the staff (who feels slighted) take a peek at my form and take notice of my name and employer. They then send several anonymous complaints to my employer, leading to me getting fired.

This is a small-scale, individual instance of a data privacy issue. Still, many organizations face large-scale breaches from outside entities targeting user information for purposes such as blackmail and extortion. These breaches aren’t exclusive to individuals but entire organizations and specialty groups. On any of these levels, said violations of privacy could have catastrophic consequences on the lives and communities of those involved.

Another critical reason to practice mindful data privacy is that your data doesn’t stop with you. Social psychologist Stanley Milgram theorized that any two people in the world are connected by no more than six degrees of separation. Think about what this means today. In data privacy terms it suggests that, if I know this information about you, I can probably access data to immediate degrees around you. Now we’re linking bits and pieces of information to weave a story that not only targets you, but potentially your child running for local government, a sibling applying to medical school, your start-up business, the non-profit you support, or the client you worked with last year, et cetera. 

The list is endless, which can make it feel hopeless! 

The good news: it’s not! As individuals and businesses choose to prioritize education around data privacy laws, we’ll continue to build a culture of honoring data privacy and implementing best practices while partnering with data security technologies. Data privacy and appropriate handling can, and should, become the baseline. 

Here’s the deal: we have to share some of our data. So how can you decide? 

I always ask myself the following questions:

  1. Does it make sense that they are asking for this data? 

If you ask yourself this question and think, “yes, they can’t provide my service without this!” If you feel like you want to proceed, then share. If not, leave it blank. They will almost never follow up and ask again. In the instance that they do, ask them why they need it. If they can’t explain the purpose to you, don’t share it. 

  1. Do you feel comfortable sharing the data? 

Trust yourself! In the same way you might trust your senses as you walked an unknown street at night. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t go down that road.

  1. Do you trust the entity with whom you are sharing your data? 

Reputation and trust are critical factors in how we navigate an always-evolving world. If these securities are missing, don’t share.

We cannot completely eliminate the risks associated with data; laws will never cover every possible instance, so we each have to take accountability individually and cooperatively mitigating the risks. Being conscious of how and why we give others access to our data will be imperative to protecting our future.

Treat your data as a part of yourself! Value it, protect it, and share it discerningly.