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Privacy Perspectives | Why it's important to be mindful of digital footprints during the COVID-19 pandemic Related reading: Is it necessary to suspend GDPR in the fight against COVID-19?

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It feels like we’re all in a long episode of "Black Mirror." The global health crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic has many difficult consequences that affect multiple aspects of our lives. In addition to alarming health concerns and a devastating number of people who suffer physically from the virus, the world economy has taken quite a hit, as well.

Retailers are forced to rethink their supply chain, which up until now relied on China. The travel industry has crashed, businesses and individuals prepare themselves for a possible recession as stock markets plunge, and companies discover a new labor challenge every morning due to workers’ possible exposure to the virus.

This new era brings many consumer behavior and habit changes, and as the whole market recalculates itself, it makes the virus spread to many other aspects of our lives, such as our online data. The need for isolation has brought a new dependency on technology tools, which may minimize our risk of COVID-19 exposure, but at the same time can affect our level of exposure to certain online threats. For businesses and people looking to protect their personal information during this crisis, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind.

Global transition to 100% online life

Individuals worldwide who spend more (or all) of their time at home due to quarantine instructions or their own personal choice are forced to move 100% online for their day-to-day needs. Therefore, they are more exposed to the risk of their data being collected and used by corporations and hackers alike.

We have to remember what’s important to us and make sure that the safe boundaries we strive to remain the goal after the global emergency is over. At the same time, we must embrace precautions to protect not only our health, but also our information, and think twice before sharing personal data with unknown sources.

So, is our digital footprint any bigger since the pandemic began? What can we do about it? 

Mine conducted research on some of these trends by analyzing the aggregated and anonymized data from 35,000 individuals who use the platform. 

The research focused on the U.S., U.K., Italy, Germany and Israel. If we look at the average, we can see a clear spike of more than 50% in new online signups since the pandemic began. France soared with 66%, with the U.S. is in second place at 60%. Germany had the smallest bump with just a 36% increase. 

The research noted some interesting trends when looking at specific industries that were affected the most.

The travel industry was hit the hardest as it was almost shut down completely. Mine found an average decline of 7% in signups to new services in that sector. Germany and Israel had the biggest plunges with 11% and 12% in new service signups, respectively, while the U.S. saw just a 2% decline. Companies in this industry usually collect personal and sensitive user data, such as passport numbers, home addresses, birthdates and financial information. Now is the perfect time to delete all the unused accounts that have no loyalty points or status and leave only the accounts that you really use.

The health and government industry, not typically popular in terms of new signups and active accounts, saw an average bump of 8.4%. Prior to the crisis, most people didn't have a reason to consume content or use their services. Since the outbreak started, millions of people worldwide need to be aware of health updates and receive all types of government aid. The problem with these companies is that they keep highly sensitive information about our health and our financial and employment status. It’s crucial to remember to delete those accounts after the crisis is over if they are no longer used.

The food delivery and e-commerce shopping industry soared with an average of 15% of new signups. The reason is obvious, as most of us are locked down at home to ease the virus’s spread, and therefore we order anything we can online. It was really surprising to see that the U.S., which has offered almost anything online for years, represent the biggest increase with 28%, while Germany and Italy are last with 8% and 9%.

It is important to note that since the crisis began, this industry, in particular, became a new target for hackers to obtain financial information, online purchasing preferences and location data. This increases our risk of digital threats dramatically, and so it is crucial to delete all unused accounts immediately. Remember, you can always sign up again.

Hackers and cybercriminals are changing their priorities

The massive effect on our digital footprint and growth of our personal data exposure since COVID-19 started is now clear; however, the most important new insight is a definite change in consumer behavior worldwide. Some industries soar while others plunge, which clearly means that our priorities as consumers are changing.

This rapid change drives hackers and cybercriminals to adapt, as well. Since the crisis started, the number of data breaches, privacy scandals, phishing attacks and social hacking are on the rise. Mine detected an average of three data breaches for each user since the pandemic started. In the majority of cases, personal financial information was stolen.

Lastly, we looked at the number of new signups the most popular services received to try to set a picture of what hackers could target next. 

In first place was Zoom. According to company reports, Zoom saw its user base grow from 10 million to 200 million. The company has also had a few privacy and security issues that made it a target for cybercriminals. 

Netflix and Spotify rank second and third globally. We’ve talked about the desire to keep a clear mind and our insanity during this lockdown, right? Both companies were already marked as a target last year, and so it is important to see what will happen in 2020. Recently, Netflix became a target of hackers with hundreds of fake domains that aim to steal financial information.

There are many more examples, surprising and unique, but the bottom line is that we all leave much more of our personal and sensitive data over the internet during this pandemic. It is important for us to remember to delete those accounts after we are done using them to reduce our digital footprint and data exposure since there is always a new data breach or privacy scandals. There is no reason why any of us should be part of the next one.

Photo by Andras Kovacs on Unsplash


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