Online Privacy on Campus: 6 Best Practices Before Heading to College

password sticky notes on laptop

For many young adults, going to college is an exciting time of “firsts”: the first time living away from home, the first time managing expenses and balancing a checkbook, the first time owning a credit card, and more. But in a time when many of these milestones have gone digital, a student’s online privacy is now at risk of hacking and intrusion. Fortunately, there are some simple steps one can take to stay safe. Let’s take a look at the six best practices for protecting online privacy.

1. Secure all financial accounts.
As we know from following the news over the past years, passwords can—and are—routinely hacked. For that reason, it’s important to secure financial accounts by using two-step authentication. Also known as two-factor authentication (2FA), this process adds a second log-in step in the form of a verification code, security token, or biometric features such as a facial scan or fingerprint. Students should make sure they apply these practices to all of their accounts, including bank and credit cards.

2. Review local privacy laws. 
Florida or Iowa may be home, but if a student’s college is in California, they will be living under a different set of online privacy rules. That’s because the United States does not have a standard, federal privacy law. And while five states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, and Virginia—have comprehensive privacy laws, others offer only varying degrees of protection. Before making the move, review the privacy laws of the state where the college is located, together with any rules that institution may also have. 

3. Lock down social media.
Social media is popular and engaging—but before posting content, think about how that content will be viewed in the future. In the digital era, colleges and employers often look at what their applicants, students, or employees post online—and make decisions accordingly.  It’s important to review one’s social media accounts and lock them down, which will further enhance online privacy.

4. Keep academic and personal lives separate.
Similar to locking down social media, it’s also a smart idea for students to put barriers between their academic and personal lives. In practice, this means using any college-issued devices (laptops, iPads, etc.) strictly for academic purposes, reserving dating apps, social media, YouTube, and the like for personal devices. Walling off personal affairs in this way is also good practice for their future professional life.

5. Update passwords regularly.
Here’s a best practice that’s so simple we tend to overlook it: update passwords every three months—and use different ones for all accounts. Instead of listing them on a Word doc or notes file (or, heaven forbid, an old-school Post-it note), leverage a password manager to ensure passwords are randomized and unable to be guessed or hacked.

6. Check to see if data’s been leaked.
With so many data breaches in the news, one’s information may already be out there on the “dark web,” regardless of the precautions already taken. Fortunately, with search tools such as InfoTracer and IDStrong, people can scan for exposed information and take steps to remove it. Searching now could save a lot of hassle in the future when obtaining loans, filing for a mortgage, or sending in a tax return.

Privacy is a national issue 

As we mentioned earlier, the lack of a federal online privacy law means that students must adapt to a different set of laws and regulations in whichever state they choose to study. This patchwork quilt of regulations is both unwieldy and unfair to consumers. Instead of individual states developing their own rules in a vacuum, Congress should establish one national, uniform law that protects all Americans while keeping the three C’s in mind:

–       Consistency (same rules across state lines) 

–       Control (of how we access our data and how it’s used), 

–       Confidence (that our data will be safe from illegal access). 

To find out more about our push to enact a federal privacy law, and to learn how to get involved, click here