Data Privacy Day 2021

Every year on January 28th, we take a day to specifically focus on our data privacy. Of course, we should be cognizant of this issue 24/7/365, but sometimes it’s just good to have a bunch of Data Privacy Day Champions (like me) remind you about it from time to time. And what better day than international Data Privacy Day?

[If you need no further convincing, you can jump right to my checklist.]

Every Day Needs to Be Data Privacy Day

Your privacy is under assault. I don’t just mean online privacy, I mean every day, real world privacy, as well. In the name of “better” marketing, we’re being tracked not just by our browsers, but also by our smart devices and even by our faces. But this data is also being used beyond targeting you with ads. I used to worry that people didn’t care about their privacy. But over the years I’ve decided that the real problem is that people feel powerless to preserve their privacy. Or worse yet, that all privacy is already lost and it’s too late.

But I’m here to tell you that it’s not too late and you can do something to take control of your data. In fact you can do many simple things, most of them free. Today is the day you take back control of your data. Today is the day you assert your human right to privacy.

Privacy is a Human Right

Edward Snowden once said: “Arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like arguing that you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” Fighting for privacy for all is important, even if you don’t personally feel that you need to exercise that right. Bruce Schneier had a great piece on the Value of Privacy that’s worth a read. And Glenn Greenwald gave a beautiful, poignant presentation on the human need for privacy at a now-famous TED Talk in Oct 2014. (If you haven’t seen this, you really need to watch it. Like right now. It’s only 15 mins long. I’ll wait…)

In this talk, Glenn outlines the concept of a Panopticon: a devilishly clever design for a prison where a cylindrical set of cells can be simultaneously and surreptitiously monitored by a small set of central guards. The inmates know that they can be seen at any time, but they have no way of knowing that they’re being watched at any given moment. The result? Much higher “compliance”. I would argue that the world we live in today is much worse. Unlike a small set of human guards who can’t possibly look everywhere at once, modern surveillance systems can not only monitor everything at once, they can store the information forever.

While living in the Information Age has enabled great things, the ad-based “free” Internet, unfettered by common-sense rules around data protection, has created a world where you are not only constantly being forced to watch ads… the ads are watching you back.

Stand and Be Counted

There are several steps that we need to take, all of which you can do right now. But before I rattle off this litany of actions, understand that doing these things is not just about you. Yes, it’s important that you claw back your privacy and control your data. But by doing so, and by bringing along as many others as you can, you’re taking a public stand for everyone. You’re telling your governmental representatives and global corporations that privacy matters. Not only are you aware of how your rights are being abused, you’re willing to spend time, effort, and yes, even money to assert your right to privacy. You will vote with your ballot and your wallet.

If enough people do this, it will bring change. So even if you’re not personally worried about your own privacy, do the following things anyway – for the sake of us all. And if you’ve already done these things for yourself, maybe celebrate Data Privacy Day by helping your friends and family do the same.

Instead of generating a new list every year, I’ve decided to maintain a single list, updating it as I find new and better ways to protect your privacy. Click here to see my comprehensive digital privacy checklist.

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