Silicon Valley CEOs Don't Manage Online Privacy Any Better Than You Do -- Here's How to Fix It

Post written by

Paul Lipman

Paul Lipman has worked in the cyber world for over a decade, and is currently CEO of BullGuard, a global leader in smart home cybersecurity.

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Online privacy is having a moment. After more than a year of headlines exposing egregious misuse of personal data, consumers are showing greater concern for their online privacy while regulators push for bolder privacy restrictions. However, despite this heightened awareness, few individuals are actually taking steps to better protect their data.

It can be hard to get a consensus on anything, yet a full 95% of all Americans say they are concerned about businesses collecting and selling personal information without permission, according to a 2017 AnchorFree survey (via eSecurity Planet). However, of that 95%, only about 50% are actually trying to address the issue. I find this chasm between concern and action quite interesting, especially as the CEO of a cybersecurity company.

I am part of a peer group of CEOs around Silicon Valley who represent companies of all sizes across a wide range of industries. These individuals are leading their organizations through the digital age and doing so from the birthplace of the technology revolution. I was curious if, when it came to online privacy, their sentiments mirrored the average American consumer, or if being based in Silicon Valley made privacy a higher priority concern.

I conducted a survey of a dozen of my CEO peers to determine how they manage their online privacy, both at home and when they travel. While certainly not scientific, I was fascinated to see that, by and large, the CEOs’ answers reflected the wider consumer trends -- namely, a deep concern about online privacy, but no one's doing much to try and control it.

It may come as no surprise that 90% of the CEOs who responded to my survey said working in Silicon Valley has made them more concerned about privacy and they take extra measures to stay private online. What did surprise me, however, was that the extra measures most were taking are not overly effective. More than one-third use an incognito browser to maintain privacy, but only 1 in 10 are using a virtual private network (VPN). This reflects a huge misunderstanding that incognito browsing can keep you private. In reality, it does little more than stop some websites from tracking you with cookies and storing data in your local cache, but even then there are plenty of workarounds.

A VPN, on the other hand, creates a secure connection that helps prevent hacking, spying and unwanted tracking both at home and on the road. This means you can connect to public Wi-Fi -- whether at a coffee shop, an airport or a hotel room -- while ensuring total privacy. What’s more, it can protect multiple devices for you and your family. A VPN offers far greater protection than browsing incognito, such as keeping your financial information private and should be standard for anyone who regularly connects to networks outside of their home or office.

If you think your information remains private from the comfort of your own home, however, think again. Going back to my CEO survey, nearly three-quarters said they use smart devices in their home and nearly as many made the assumption that either the device manufacturer or their internet service provider (ISP) were taking steps to protect their privacy. I believe this same attitude is reflective of consumers everywhere, but unfortunately, it is misguided. Most devices do nothing to protect privacy or even provide general cybersecurity protection. In fact, a 2018 study from Ben Gurion University in Israel (via New Atlas) showed that nearly all home-based smart devices can be hacked in 30 minutes or less.

While ISPs have a vested interest in keeping their network safe to ensure customer satisfaction, they aren’t quite as concerned about privacy. Recent changes to Federal Communications Commission rules allow ISPs to sell your browsing history to advertisers without even telling you. It is in your best interest to protect your own information from your home-based ISP as well, and worth considering a VPN for any device you use, no matter where you use it.

Other privacy measures, such as using a password manager, ad blockers, privacy search engines and anti-virus software, offer additional protection in the fight to keep your online information private. Keep in mind, however, that there is no such thing as a free solution. Those who offer free privacy solutions are making money somewhere along the way, typically by sharing information with advertisers. It’s best to consider paying a reputable company for the use of their privacy tools.

What about those times when you need to be connected but don’t have access to privacy protection? It’s best to make smart choices. Limit your time on free and public Wi-Fi and ensure you have a legitimate connection from the business or location. Never access highly sensitive information when using unsecured networks and put in place additional measures to protect your privacy such as two-factor authentication.

Without question, our online privacy has been taken for granted. It’s time we as individuals take a more active role in managing our own privacy, whether you consider yourself tech-savvy or not.

The ideas shared above are simple, easily accessible ways to address personal privacy. It may seem like one more item to add to your to-do list in the short run, but in the long run, it will afford you and your loved ones increased protection from anyone who wants to exploit your personal, private information.

Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?
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Getty

Online privacy is having a moment. After more than a year of headlines exposing egregious misuse of personal data, consumers are showing greater concern for their online privacy while regulators push for bolder privacy restrictions. However, despite this heightened awareness, few individuals are actually taking steps to better protect their data.

It can be hard to get a consensus on anything, yet a full 95% of all Americans say they are concerned about businesses collecting and selling personal information without permission, according to a 2017 AnchorFree survey (via eSecurity Planet). However, of that 95%, only about 50% are actually trying to address the issue. I find this chasm between concern and action quite interesting, especially as the CEO of a cybersecurity company.

I am part of a peer group of CEOs around Silicon Valley who represent companies of all sizes across a wide range of industries. These individuals are leading their organizations through the digital age and doing so from the birthplace of the technology revolution. I was curious if, when it came to online privacy, their sentiments mirrored the average American consumer, or if being based in Silicon Valley made privacy a higher priority concern.

I conducted a survey of a dozen of my CEO peers to determine how they manage their online privacy, both at home and when they travel. While certainly not scientific, I was fascinated to see that, by and large, the CEOs’ answers reflected the wider consumer trends -- namely, a deep concern about online privacy, but no one's doing much to try and control it.

It may come as no surprise that 90% of the CEOs who responded to my survey said working in Silicon Valley has made them more concerned about privacy and they take extra measures to stay private online. What did surprise me, however, was that the extra measures most were taking are not overly effective. More than one-third use an incognito browser to maintain privacy, but only 1 in 10 are using a virtual private network (VPN). This reflects a huge misunderstanding that incognito browsing can keep you private. In reality, it does little more than stop some websites from tracking you with cookies and storing data in your local cache, but even then there are plenty of workarounds.

A VPN, on the other hand, creates a secure connection that helps prevent hacking, spying and unwanted tracking both at home and on the road. This means you can connect to public Wi-Fi -- whether at a coffee shop, an airport or a hotel room -- while ensuring total privacy. What’s more, it can protect multiple devices for you and your family. A VPN offers far greater protection than browsing incognito, such as keeping your financial information private and should be standard for anyone who regularly connects to networks outside of their home or office.

If you think your information remains private from the comfort of your own home, however, think again. Going back to my CEO survey, nearly three-quarters said they use smart devices in their home and nearly as many made the assumption that either the device manufacturer or their internet service provider (ISP) were taking steps to protect their privacy. I believe this same attitude is reflective of consumers everywhere, but unfortunately, it is misguided. Most devices do nothing to protect privacy or even provide general cybersecurity protection. In fact, a 2018 study from Ben Gurion University in Israel (via New Atlas) showed that nearly all home-based smart devices can be hacked in 30 minutes or less.

While ISPs have a vested interest in keeping their network safe to ensure customer satisfaction, they aren’t quite as concerned about privacy. Recent changes to Federal Communications Commission rules allow ISPs to sell your browsing history to advertisers without even telling you. It is in your best interest to protect your own information from your home-based ISP as well, and worth considering a VPN for any device you use, no matter where you use it.

Other privacy measures, such as using a password manager, ad blockers, privacy search engines and anti-virus software, offer additional protection in the fight to keep your online information private. Keep in mind, however, that there is no such thing as a free solution. Those who offer free privacy solutions are making money somewhere along the way, typically by sharing information with advertisers. It’s best to consider paying a reputable company for the use of their privacy tools.

What about those times when you need to be connected but don’t have access to privacy protection? It’s best to make smart choices. Limit your time on free and public Wi-Fi and ensure you have a legitimate connection from the business or location. Never access highly sensitive information when using unsecured networks and put in place additional measures to protect your privacy such as two-factor authentication.

Without question, our online privacy has been taken for granted. It’s time we as individuals take a more active role in managing our own privacy, whether you consider yourself tech-savvy or not.

The ideas shared above are simple, easily accessible ways to address personal privacy. It may seem like one more item to add to your to-do list in the short run, but in the long run, it will afford you and your loved ones increased protection from anyone who wants to exploit your personal, private information.

Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?

Paul Lipman has worked in the cyber world for over a decade, and is currently CEO of BullGuard, a global leader in smart home cybersecurity....

Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only, fee-based organization comprised of leading CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Find out if you qualify at forbestech...