UW Privacy Office

Maintain Privacy and Digital Wellness

Last updated on November 8, 2023


What is digital wellness?

Digital wellness refers to developing a healthy relationship with technology. Many factors impact digital wellness, including the access and use of our personal data by other people and companies. The personal data we share online or that is collected and used by companies — our digital footprint — can impact our relationship with technology and have real-world impacts on our well-being.

What digital wellness means to each person varies. And while there can be impacts to digital wellness and privacy in certain technology areas, there are also benefits. This information is designed to raise awareness so that you can develop an informed position in order to support a vision of digital wellness that is right for you.

Digital footprint

Your digital footprint is made up of your:

  • Internet/app use behavior.
  • Digital communications.
  • Information you share online.

Some pieces are controlled by you, some belong to others. Some may be easily recognized, while others are less noticeable or are even invisible.

Common privacy themes that impact digital wellness

There are certain major privacy themes to be aware of when navigating the five areas of technology usage (e.g., devices, apps, Internet browsing, email, and social media) and making decisions about managing your personal data and privacy:

Data collection and use

  • Devices, apps and websites collect lots of your data and may use and share it with third parties for a number of purposes.
    • So, it’s important to be aware of the ways you may be allowing access to your data either intentionally or inadvertently.
  • Companies may also ask for more data than necessary for the services they provide – like your location for a flashlight app.
    • The more that is collected, the more data there is to lose in a data breach. Companies may also be able to learn more about you than you realized when you signed up for their service.

Tracking and profiling

  • Social media networks allow you to share “real time” location information with friends and other connections.
  • Some apps also have the ability to access your location, even when you’re not using them.
  • By revealing your location, you may be giving others the ability to know where you are, where you’ve been or where you habitually go.
  • You may also be tracked in unexpected ways, such as retailers using your device’s WiFi or Bluetooth identifiers to monitor shopper traffic.
  • Websites also use “persistent identifiers”, such as “cookies”, to collect information about you and track your internet activity.
    • This may be used to create a profile of your habits to market other goods and services, or they may sell that information to a third party.

Security of your data

  • Hackers and other bad actors are constantly trying to get into your devices or online accounts and access your personal data for nefarious purposes.

Sharing information

  • If you share your information with friends or connections, they in turn may share it with others, sometimes by accident.
  • Information you share on social media can sometimes be made public without your permission, including by your friends.

Why does digital wellness matter?

Greater digital wellness often translates into more options and improved freedom of choice by reducing the corresponding risks or probability of digital “illnesses” like data breaches, identity theft, reputational damage, among other privacy harms.

For example:

  • Greater digital wellness could lead to a stronger credit score, resulting in better loan rates, lower insurance rates, perhaps even more employment opportunities.
  • Greater digital wellness could lead to improved privacy and security hygiene, reducing the likelihood of stolen credentials and possible fraud, saving you time and energy to devote elsewhere.
  • Greater digital wellness could lead to greater control of your personal reputation, granting you more choices about jobs to seek, places to live, people to befriend, etc.

Digital wellness is like physical wellness in that you can do everything in your power to remain healthy, and yet you may still become ill. It’s still worth it to take preventative measures.

Manage your digital wellness

You can take steps to minimize or in some cases erase digital traces. The steps you take to manage your digital footprint, and by extension, your digital wellness, will be informed by your personal definition of digital wellness. Once you define that for yourself, you can focus your time on learning and taking steps to engage in some digital hygiene. To get started ask yourself:

  • Are there certain aspects of technology usage that are required or that bring value to your life?
  • Are there certain areas or aspects of technology usage that you are more concerned about than others?

Once you have a clearer grasp of your position on digital wellness, take action! You can begin to take control of your personal privacy using many possible approaches including starting with:

  • The most important area to you:
    • A particular technology.
    • Sensitive types of data.
  • Scheduling regular times to chip away at it.
  • New practices going forward.

Whatever your approach, commit to starting NOW to learn about, manage, and control your personal privacy going forward through intentional choices.

Five recommended steps to improve your privacy and digital wellness

Step 1: Assess your current digital wellness by establishing a baseline

  • Conduct a personal data inventory: identify the physical and digital locations of your personal data capturing all known accounts, storage locations, devices used (including items such as personal trackers, medical devices, even home systems with personal data).
  • Review your inventory and ask:
    • Are there opportunities to reduce or delete files, old accounts, out-of-date information, overall scope of your digital “footprint”?
    • Are there gaps in your awareness of where your personal data may be shared? Check current privacy settings, tighten controls, establish limits.
    • Consider possible risks of blackmail, doxing (sharing of your personal information online), embarrassment, fraud, harassment, theft, penalties, phishing, ransomware, etc. The broader your digital footprint, the higher the likelihood of impact, the greater your privacy risk.

Step 2: Protect the personal data you care most about

  • Improve your password management practices. Reduce reuse of passwords and consider using a password manager.
  • Use two factor authentication when logging into systems and services when available. For a second layer of security for sensitive information beyond your UW NetID password, use two-factor authentication (2FA). UW employees and students are required to use 2FA.
  • Limit your use of public wireless networks – opt to use a trusted Virtual Private Network (VPN) whenever possible.
  • Consider using encryption and anonymous or private browsing, when permitted or available.
  • Control your devices (limit access, don’t share passcodes, avoid loss or theft, use “find my device” option, set up remote device wiping capability, limit connections, etc.).
  • Disconnect/log out when not in use or no longer needed.

Step 3: Improve your email management

  • Ensure email is a trusted and secure method of sending personal data.
  • Use anti tracking of email tools or adjust settings to minimize email tracking.
  • Minimize email clutter as you go.
  • Schedule regular inbox review. Establish “delete by” dates, delete unnecessary email, download and file attachments you want to save, unsubscribe to reduce unwanted email, etc.
  • ALWAYS stop, think, and carefully assess the validity of an email before you open emails, attachments, or click on embedded links. Be aware that criminals may send fraudulent emails that look like real emails in an attempt to steal your personal data.

Step 4: Review your social media usage

  • Evaluate the benefit(s) of the social media applications you use and evaluate whether the benefits outweigh the risks and impacts. If not, consider closing the account.
  • Review and update all privacy settings often as these tend to change with each new software release or update.
  • Think carefully before posting and be considerate of others. Ask yourself:
    • Am I sharing my precise location or the location of others?
    • Can scammers use this information?
    • What are the potential harms if this content/data/image is made public?
  • Don’t assume your perceptions of privacy are shared by other people.
    • Ask people before sharing their information, images or recordings, and ask that they do the same for you.

Step 5: Review and reduce your use of apps

  • Review your apps’ privacy policies and practices.
  • Configure your apps’ privacy settings.
    • Limit what data your apps can access.
    • Turn off geolocation when not needed.
    • Require apps to ask permission to track.
  • Download only from official app stores to limit exposure to malware.
  • Delete any apps that you no longer use to minimize unnecessary data collection

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External Resources