The University of Delaware, alongside over 300 other organizations worldwide, will be celebrating Data Privacy Day on Sunday, January 28. Data Privacy Day is an annual, international effort to create awareness about the importance of respecting privacy, safeguarding data and enabling trust.

In the era of smartphones, social media, online services, and the Internet of Things (IoT), there are plenty of ways your data can be gathered and shared—even ways you might not be aware of. Think of all the places you’ve given your personal information: the grocery store, music and streaming accounts, online stores, newsletters, the list goes on. Some of these places can take your personal information and sell it to third-party groups. Have you ever received an influx of junk mail after buying something from a website? Or have you been getting strange emails after signing up for that Kohl’s card? Seriously, it’s ALL connected.

This all might seem like something out of an episode of Black Mirror (Ooh watch out, the Internet of Things is gonna getcha!), but it’s accurate. When you provide your personal information, you’re making a conscious decision to entrust that information to someone else’s care. Before agreeing to share your data, you should know how the recipient will use it and who will see it. Dr. John D’Arcy, professor of Management Information Systems, points out, “We’ve given out so much data on a daily basis, including for things as simple as rewards programs, that we have no idea what’s going to happen to all of it.”

Understanding data privacy is a crucial personal and professional skill, especially in a world where cybercriminals seek to leverage personal information to exploit people and organizations.

But people do have some control over how their personal information is collected and shared.

“One way to improve your personal privacy is to pay attention to privacy policies, because they vary and it’s just a thing people don’t read, you just click on it,” D’Arcy explained. “Wherever you are providing information, I would say take a few minutes and actually read the privacy policy and understand how your data can be used.”

Some other tips to protect your privacy:

  • Check the privacy and sharing settings on your social media accounts. Make sure that your posts, pictures, and the personal information in your profile are visible only to the audiences you intend.
  • Understand how companies will use your data. AI assistants, smart toys, social media, and rewards programs all collect your data. Understand what they’ll do with it before agreeing to give it to them.
  • Don’t give out your personal information unless you really need to. The best way to protect your privacy is to be selective about why, when, how, and with whom you share your personal information.

Data privacy boils down to common sense. Most people would be skeptical if a stranger came up to them and asked for their name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number. The trick is to exercise the same skepticism for companies, social networks, and smart products. Ideally, says D’Arcy, people refine and rely on this instinct to produce an “automatic response to deal with the threat. They don’t have to stop and make a conscious decision.”

Commit to your privacy this year. Take a moment to review your social media privacy settings, and question whether you should really provide your address and DOB the next time you’re asked.