It’s time to take stock of your private information.

Today is Data Privacy Day, which marks the 1981 signing of Europe’s Convention 108, the first legally binding international treaty involving privacy and data protection. But, more importantly, it’s a reminder that protecting your personal data is vital.

Just like checking the tire pressure and oil in your car, taking care of digital privacy is a task that requires some ongoing maintenance.

And the day is a bit more meaningful this year.

More on digital privacy

While the threat of data breaches continues to loom, along with the specters of phishing and malware attacks, the concept of digital privacy has taken center stage. 

Consumers in the U.S. and abroad are more aware than ever that their personal data is being collected by a host of products and services, everything from smart home devices to social media platforms to internet service providers.

And people are pushing back. Last year marked the passage of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which extended new digital privacy protections to residents of that state. And that legislation followed the lead set by the European Union, which put into place the General Data Protection Regulation, better known as the GDPR, in 2018.

Tim Mackey, principal security evangelist for the security company Synopsys, says there are a lot of parallels between the CCPA and the GDPR. For the first time, consumers in the U.S.—at least some, anyway—have the right to know what personal information is being collected about them, the right to access that data, the right to know who it’s being sold to, and the right to opt out of those sales.

The law also guarantees California residents the right to delete data already collected.

But, Mackey says, one of the most important things the law does is create a model for other states.

“Over the coming year, or 18 months, CCPA is going to establish a template for privacy in the U.S.,” he says. “What now applies to California will, hopefully, eventually apply to the rest of the United States.”

Until then, it’s mostly up to you to uphold your digital rights.

Here are a few easy ways to protect your privacy, including links to other Consumer Reports resources.

Ask questions. “Consumers want to take control, but they don’t have the foggiest idea of where to start,” Mackey says. “They know there’s a ton of data out there on them. But they can’t do anything about it when they don’t know what is where.”

So you need to be asking companies, whether they’re major social media providers or the startup that monitors your video doorbell: What data is being collected? How is it secured? And how long does the organization plan to keep it around?

While you might not be legally entitled to the answers, thanks to the GDPR many companies are getting accustomed to fielding those questions and may just provide the answers.

Audit your log-ins. It’s awfully tempting to use Facebook or Google to automatically log in to the sea of apps and websites you engage with. But those log-ins add up.

And every time you go that route, you’re giving Facebook or Google access to a bit more data.

And long after you’ve forgotten about those seemingly innocuous accounts, they still have access to any personal information you agreed to share when you signed up.

So think twice before using those log-ins. And if you no longer use an app or a site linked to your Facebook and Google accounts, delete the connection and stop sharing your info. 

Will Apple’s new universal log-in, which promises privacy on top of convenience, be any different? It’s too soon to say for sure, but Mackey says it looks to be a step in the right direction.

Guard your info. Lock down your social media accounts to make sure your posts are restricted to people you know. Facebook has a privacy checkup tool to help with this. And even then, think before you post. People don’t need, or want, to know everything about you.

And if you want to see exactly what Facebook knows about you, you can download your entire history. It takes just a few minutes. Google has a similar option. Or if you’ve decided that you’re done with social media, you can quit Facebook and other accounts and delete all your data. 

In addition to your online accounts, consider internet-connected devices, which can quietly collect information in the background. Every time you say “Alexa” or “Hey, Google,” remember that a recording is being made. Remember that apps and websites are collecting your information, too. Keep your privacy settings for both at levels you’re comfortable with.

And if you’re no longer using an app, delete it.

Make better passwords. Strong passwords go a long way toward protecting your information. Obvious ones, such as, say, “Password123,” don’t cut it.

Long, random sets of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, and special characters are best. Think that’s too hard? A password manager can help.

Experts are divided on whether you should change your passwords frequently, but if there’s any chance one of yours has been stolen in a breach, change it right away.

And one other thing all experts agree on: Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts.  

Turn on 2FA. While you’re getting your passwords in shape, make sure you’ve enabled multifactor authentication, or two-factor authentication (2FA). Basically, this requires you to enter a second form of identification—such as a code texted to your phone—in addition to your password before accessing your account.

These days 2FA is available on everything from banking websites to Gmail. And it goes a long way toward keeping the bad guys out of your stuff if your password is ever stolen.

Protect and educate your kids. Just because an internet-connected toy wants to know your child’s name or birthday, that doesn’t mean you have to provide it. And think before you post something about your kids on social media. Nobody likes an oversharer, and when your children are older, they might not appreciate very personal posts about them from years earlier. 

On the same note, talk to your kids about smart behavior online. It’s never too early to have that conversation. Pictures posted on websites or social media can be copied and shared. Even if you delete them, they may never really go away.

And when it comes to social media, parents need to remind their kids to think about the possible privacy implications before they post—not just on themselves but also on others.

Run your updates. This isn’t just important for laptops and smartphones but also for your router and the internet of things devices connected to it. Known security flaws that aren’t patched give hackers easy access to your network.

And a good way to cover all your bases is to use an antivirus program and keep it updated. There are great antivirus packages out there—free and paid—that cover traditional computers and mobile devices, too. Consumer Reports members can check our full ratings.


Digital Housekeeping

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the number of log-ins and passwords you have? On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports’ expert Bree Fowler explains to host Jack Rico how to find and eliminate old online accounts.