How to minimize data collection and the use of your personal information

In this second article in our Cyber 101 series, Viasat cybersecurity expert Lee Chieffalo shows how we can protect ourselves from sharing too much online.


Most Americans say they feel helpless in the face of big tech’s sophisticated data collection efforts.

A Pew Research survey shows 62 percent believe companies collecting data about them is part of daily life, and most also feel they have little or no control over how these entities use their personal information.

Viasat Technical Director Lee Chieffalo says only part of that statement is true.

“Our personal information is the most valuable thing to almost every online company in the world,” said Chieffalo, who specializes in cybersecurity for Viasat’s government sector. “Many of them make money from selling your data. And there are others who could be grabbing your information and selling it to less reputable sources or pharming identities.

“But there are things you can do. You can’t protect yourself 100% — but you can make it harder for them, and set that bar a little bit higher.”

That can make a critical difference, not only in your online experience but even the security of your finances.

Techniques like pharming and phishing — scams that use corrupt or hijacked websites or emails with links to fake websites — are both quests for personal information that could lead to identity theft.

Identify theft can have long-lasting repercussions on your digital privacy, finances and online reputation.

Targeted ads, pop-ups and other online privacy invasions that result from data collection are the lesser but still annoying ramifications of having personal information online.

It’s all an unfortunate side effect of online life, a negative amid the internet’s vast benefits.

But it’s also something we can minimize. Here a few ways to lower your online exposure:

Avoid unfamiliar links

If you receive an email that appears to come from a company you do business with, don’t click on any links or attachments before you’ve verified it’s from that business. Sometimes just hovering over the email address can reveal that is came from an odd-looking address rather than a legit business. Better yet, go directly to company websites and conduct any needed business there.

A legitimate website address should start with “https” and not “http.” The latter is a signal the site may be corrupted. Corrupt websites and links may also have spelling errors, and unfamiliar fonts, layouts or colors.

Use more than one email account

Designate one for sensitive information like banking and finances, and keep that address private. Use a second to sign up for retailer lists, coupons, routine appointments and other such activities. Reserve a third for personal communication. This will keep spam out of your personal or sensitive accounts and limit the impact of potential corruption. As a side benefit, it also keeps your communication more organized.

Less is more

When you’re creating a profile or signing up for a service, only provide what’s absolutely required. If it won’t impact your use of the service, consider using an alias and/or anonymous email address. This will keep your online activity from being linked with your real name.

Don’t share your SSN

Companies commonly ask for Social Security Numbers because it reliably ties your data with many other sources, but other than the federal government, you’re not required to provide it to anyone.

Restrict privacy settings

Limit who can see your posts and personal information on social media sites. Facebook, for instance, provides Basic Privacy Settings and guidance on how to limit your audience.

Think before you post, “like” or “check in”

All these actions either can either be added to a company’s database or offer potential thieves a wealth of personal information. Save those details for private group chats, texts or phone conversations.

Be cautious when downloading apps

Many apps work just fine without having access to your personal information. Instead of automatically clicking “accept,” review each app’s privacy request first, and reject permission when possible.

The bottom line is that being less generous with your personal information can go a long way toward making you more secure online.