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Tech Tips for Seniors: Online Safety and Data Privacy

elderly man browsing the web on his laptop

Staying safe online can feel daunting. Most of us are keenly aware that there are people out there with bad intentions who know infinitely more about computers and the internet than we do. Plus, it seems like every week we hear a new story about some poor soul inadvertently giving away important personal information. But you don’t have to be an expert in data privacy to stay safe online and keep your information private and protected.

Here are some online safety tips for seniors to help keep you and your information safe:

Create strong passwords.

Lock all your devices with secure passwords. This includes your computer, tablet and smartphone. This is the first line of defense against prying eyes if your devices get lost or stolen. A strong password should be at least 12 characters and contain letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t use any personal information such as your birthday, street address or phone number.

Protect your accounts.

To protect your passwords, use two-step verification or other measures when available for an additional layer of security. Since passwords can be stolen, many apps and websites offer various free methods to make sure it’s actually you trying to access your account – not just someone with your password.

Be wary of the scary.

Alarming emails, text messages, and other communications alerting you to problems with your bank account, taxes, or credit cards are often scams. These messages may look legitimate, but often contain links or files designed to trick you into giving up private financial information or access to your accounts. If you’re unsure of a message’s authenticity, contact the company to determine if it’s trustworthy or not.

When in doubt, toss it out.

Scammers can take over email addresses that aren’t theirs and send you messages that look like they came from a trusted friend or family member. If an email looks unusual, even if it came from a friend’s email address, it’s best to delete it. Also, make sure the spam filters on your email accounts are on to help screen out suspicious messages.

Take care when you share.

Think twice about what you share publicly on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Scammers often use social media to harvest information like names, addresses and birthdays to pose as you on applications for credit cards or bank loans. Be sure to adjust the privacy settings on these platforms to limit who can see your information and never share your location.

Install security software.

Use security software from a reliable source, keep it updated, and run anti-virus and anti-spyware scans regularly. Be suspicious of updates in the form of pop-up ads or emails. There’s a good chance they contain, or can lead to, malware that could infect your computer.

Check your browser safety settings.

Most of us access the internet with a browser like Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox or Internet Explorer. These browsers all come with settings that can help protect you from dangerous websites. It’s always a good idea to adjust your settings for optimum security. Also, consider clearing your browser history at the end of every session, so as not to leave a trail of data for someone else to find.

Make sure your firewall is on.

Your computer most likely came with default firewall settings to help protect it without the need for any adjustments. Things can get complicated, however, if you have antivirus software with an additional firewall that can be adjusted separately. In this case, consider talking to a computer professional about how to safely protect your computer without over-blocking important websites and programs.

Log out when finished.

Don’t forget to log out of apps and websites when you’re done using them. Leaving them open could make you vulnerable to security and privacy risks were someone to use your computer without your knowledge.

Consider asking for help.

If you live alone or are by yourself most of the time, consider asking a trusted friend or family member to double-check your computer settings and safety protocols. Adult family members and computer-savvy grandchildren can be a great source of help.

What’s the deal with “cookies”? 

You may have noticed recently that nearly every website you visit greets you with a “We use cookies” message, prompting you to agree to or accept the placement of cookies on your browser. Wonder what’s going on? It all has to do with data privacy and your rights to have any personal data you transmit to an organization be handled in accordance with the law. You see, when you visit a website, it sends a small text file, or cookie, to your computer, which then stores it in your web browser. Some cookies store passwords to frequently visited websites. Others track how much time you spend on a website or what items are in your online shopping cart. Cookies are generally helpful for both businesses and users.

Recently, two laws, the EU Cookies Directive and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) were enacted. Among  other things, these new laws require websites to notify users of the use of cookies, regardless of where that business is located.

What is data protection and privacy?

Two other topics that have garnered attention lately are data privacy and data protection. Let’s take a quick look at these two related, but unique, security areas.

Data Privacy

In general, data privacy refers to your rights regarding how organizations handle your personal data. It focuses on collecting, processing, sharing, archiving and deleting data in accordance with the law. The reason this is so important is that customer data is invaluable to companies. In order for them to keep and use customers’ data, they must demonstrate transparency by openly communicating things like the types of data they collect, what the date is used for, who processes the data, and so on.

Data Protection

Data protection, on the other hand, is the practice of safeguarding important information from corruption, compromise or loss, and making it available under all circumstances. A large part of a data protection strategy is also making sure that data can be restored quickly following corruption or loss. Here too, the GDPR includes regulations about how businesses may store and use customer data, including guidelines regarding the communication of such practices to users.

The failure to comply with data privacy and data protection laws can carry stiff penalties and fines for offending organizations, making it worth their while for companies to protect users’ data.

Stay safe and protected

At Freedom Pointe at The Villages, we take online security and data privacy and protection seriously, and are here to help should you have any questions or concerns about online safety. By implementing the online safety tips for seniors outlined above and understanding your role in data protection and privacy, you can help ensure every trip to the internet or your inbox is a safe one.

Learn more about independent living in The Villages, FL.