UW Privacy Office

Maintain Privacy and Digital Wellness

Last updated on December 13, 2022


Manage Your Personal Privacy

What is Personal Privacy?

  • The right to be let alone
  • The state of being free from public attention
  • The right to withhold or control certain aspects of personal information

The meaning of personal privacy varies from person to person

Privacy is a personal and unique matter – each of us has different sensitivities or areas of concern regarding personal data. Common areas of greatest concern include:

  • Identity (name, Social Security number, etc.)
  • Financial data (accounts, bankruptcies, taxes, etc.)
  • Health data (chronic illness, high blood pressure, cancer, medical records, etc.)
  • Privacy of your family and friends (images, locations, communications, etc.)
  • Digital recordings (videos, voicemail messages, photos, etc.)
  • Personal beliefs (political, religious, etc.)
  • Lifestyle choices (marital status, gender identity, living arrangements, etc.)
  • Other

Privacy concerns are often different based upon context, circumstances, heritage, cultural norms, etc., and will vary vastly among family members, friends, and others.

Take control

You can begin to take control of your personal privacy using many possible approaches. Consider starting with:

  • The most private, most sensitive, most important area first;
  • The big picture and then narrow to specific areas;
  • Small, easy steps, “low hanging fruit,” to gain skills;
  • One device at a time: perhaps phone first, then laptop, tablet, etc.;
  • Paper first, then move to digital;
  • Single subject areas at any one time: passwords, email, social media, etc.

You may also consider asking someone else to help you identify the approach that is best for you.

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

Attend to Your Digital Wellness

What is digital wellness?

Digital wellness can be thought of as the degree to which you are able to manage and/or influence your identity, reputation, and privacy, as well as the amount of personal autonomy you have and the control you can exert in managing information about you.

Why strive to improve your digital wellness?

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, or reputational harm.

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 similar to physical wellness in that you can do everything in your power to remain healthy, and yet may still become ill!

Symptoms or consequences of digital illness include stolen passwords, compromised accounts, identity theft, ransomware, and data breaches, among others.  That said, focusing on your wellness now will reduce your likelihood of such digital illness later.

Five recommended steps to improve your privacy and digital wellness

1. Assess your current digital wellness by establishing a baseline

  • Conduct a personal data inventory: identity 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 being 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.

2. Protect the personal data you care most about

  • Improve your password management practices. Reduce reuse of passwords and consider using a password manager.
  • Where it really counts, use two factor authentication when logging into systems and services. For a second layer of security for sensitive information — beyond your UW NetID password — use two-factor authentication (2FA). UW employees and students are encouraged to opt in to 2FA on the web when signing in with their UW NetID.
  • Limit your use of public wireless networks – opt to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) whenever possible.
  • Consider use of 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 when not in use or no longer needed!

3. Improve your email management

  • Ensure email is a trusted and secure method of digitizing or sending personal data.
  • Minimize email clutter as you go.
  • Prioritize regular housekeeping of email – establish “delete by” dates, minimize inbox, 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.

4. Reconfigure your social media accounts

  • Review and update all privacy settings often as these tend to change with each new software release or update.
  • Don’t assume your perceptions of privacy are shared by other individuals or companies. Be sure to ask other individuals before sharing their information, images or recordings , and ask that they do the same for you.
  • Before posting anything, consider “what would the possible consequences be if this content/data/image is visible and discoverable for the remainder of my lifetime, perhaps even after?” When worried about possible consequences or when in doubt, don’t share!

5. Review and reduce your use of apps

  • Update and maintain all software and devices
  • Manage settings by app and by device, and be intentional about which apps and devices you permit to use always on or always listening options and location services (location tracking, personal assistants, etc.)
  • Weigh the risks and benefits before downloading or using an app
  • Before you agree to a new app, be aware of how the app is using or sharing your information, and where possible, opt-out of or turn off certain features.

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External Resources