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Creating Positive Privacy Habits for the New Year


This is the year to cultivate your privacy awareness and develop a privacy practice. The proliferation of surveillance and security breach stories throughout 2014 isn’t a reason to despair. On the contrary, it’s proof the moment has come for us to collectively push the privacy movement forward.

Privacy is “on trend” for 2015. More and more, privacy is a growing business as evidenced by the array of privacy protective solutions on display at the Consumer Electronic Show.

Yes, we can influence governments and companies to respect and protect our personal information. Yes, we can make meaningful choices about how our information is used. Each of us can set an intention to take responsibility for our privacy. After all, if you don’t protect your privacy, who will?

One of the most effective and lasting ways to foster a privacy practice is to make it a habit. In this post, we’ll take a look at why and how you can make privacy your “default setting.”

Why Create a Privacy Habit?

Belief that privacy is possible and matters is essential to cultivating a habit. Privacy is not the domain of the paranoid. It is an essential component to a civilized society and a profound human right. Ordinary people care about privacy for a variety of reasons.

Setting our privacy intentions doesn’t have to be complex. We begin by cultivating our awareness. We tune into stores about privacy, follow privacy experts, and remain open to discussions about privacy.

As we do so, we reflect on our personal privacy values. This opens us up to recall the various instances when we’ve been asked to provide our personal information. We take stock of our interactions on social media and the reactions to information we’ve shared and have seen shared by others. All of this helps us rank our personal information in order of importance. We are able to notice when we feel a greater or lesser need for privacy.

We engage in other habits to protect our personal property from theft and abuse. Locking our homes and removing valuables from our cars are second nature to most of us. In our age of networked information, it’s important to realize our information is a valuable intangible asset. As Wired magazine’s article, “The Biggest Security Threats We’ll Face in 2015” demonstrates, a lack of attention to our privacy practice can contribute to personal financial loss, extortion, and data destruction.

How To Create Your Privacy Habit

Resolutions are all the rage when the new year arrives, but building sustainable habits are where real change happens. As 99U’s review of the book The Power of Habit makes clear, there are some simple hacks you can employ to make habits last for good.

According to author Charles Duhigg’s exploration of the science behind habit formation, there are three major components to habitual behavior. There is a cue, which triggers our behavior. This is followed by our routine, or actions which comprise the habit. Finally, we experience the reward, the outcome which helps our brains determine whether the habit is worth formation.

We can use the rule of this three-step loop to help us create a privacy habit. A big part of building a habit is anticipating the reward.

How Can Our Privacy Habit Include A Reward?

Imagine, for instance, you hear about major privacy breach of a social network. Now picture the relief you feel when you know you have been highly selective about how much information you’ve shared with the social network. True, some information may be compromised, but because of your privacy habit, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you made deliberate decisions about your privacy. The same might be true of apps you opted not to use because of missing privacy policies, unappealing privacy settings or questionable third-party affiliations. The reward helps you remember: Privacy is cool.

To make sure we habitually earn this reward, we must choose a cue and a routine to follow that cue.

Cues might include:

• If you are asked to provide your zip code or phone number when making an in store purchase

• Downloading a new app

• Purchasing and installing a new “smart” or connected device

• Logging into a social media website

• Creating a user account for any online service

The cue signals us to engage with a mindfulness routine. A good one to remember is how to S.E.E. clearly: Stop. Evaluate. Enter. When we SEE we make a real, active choice about what information we are comfortable sharing in a certain context.

This “pause before you post” routine can help you replace “bad” habits such as automatically filling in a common password for every website, not changing your passwords regularly, accepting privacy policies without reading them, not reviewing privacy settings and options, and oversharing on social media. Through the power of repetition and the downstream rewards, you can create a privacy habit and make it last for good. Not only will you limit to some respect how much power companies and governments have over your information, you’ll also discover how good taking social responsibility for your privacy feels.

Sustaining Your Privacy Habit Through Mindfulness

Have patience with yourself as you build and maintain your new habit this year. Mind the cues, engage with the routine, and the rewards of privacy will come.

As they say:

“People change for two reasons: their minds have been opened or their hearts have been broken.”

By cultivating privacy awareness we can open our minds and create positive privacy habits this year.

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