Are you afraid of data theft?In light of the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook users are up in arms — and rightly so — about the potential use and misuse of their data by the social media network and its advertising partners. A recent poll conducted by Gallup revealed that 55% of U.S. Facebook users rated themselves as “very concerned” about their personal information being sold to or used by other companies and organizations (25% rated themselves “somewhat concerned” while 19% said they were “not too/not at all concerned). Another poll conducted just a week prior on April 11 showed that Facebook users “very concerned” about privacy invasion have risen from 30% in 2011 to 43% in 2018. These concerns aren’t just limited to Facebook, either, as 57% of Google users also indicated they were “very concerned” about data theft.

Clearly, Americans are paying attention to issues of privacy when it comes to their data, but is it too little too late? If your data has already been collected, can you still protect yourself?

What can you do to protect your data if it’s already out there?

One of the scariest things for most people when it comes to the recent stories about exploited personal data is that, for the most part, there’s not much that can be done since the information has already been taken and used. You might be feeling helpless, but the good news is, you have options to protect yourself. While you can’t take back the past, you can move forward with a clearer vision of the importance of protecting your data. We’ve written before about the difficulties presented when it comes to privacy in the era of mass data collection. Fortunately, as more and more people become aware of how their data is collected and used, they’ll be better posed to take precautions and stand up for their rights to privacy going forward.

Tighten your profile security

If you’re among the 55% of Facebook users or 57% of Google users currently “very concerned” about the potential use and misuse of your data by social media network partner companies and organizations, the best thing you can do for yourself in the immediate future is to evaluate and strengthen your privacy settings. Believe it or not, there are limits to what can be collected, and it starts with what you allow to be shared. It’s a total snooze to read all of a site’s terms and conditions, but you should at least familiarize yourself with the parts that talk about how your data is collected, stored and shared. If you have the ability to opt out or make it so none of your information can be accessed by third parties, then take advantage of that. A public Facebook profile is a walking invitation to violate your privacy, both for everyday criminals like identity thieves and scammers, as well as data mining companies. Read our guide to the key social media privacy settings you need to know about to get started protecting your profiles.

Consider other avenues of data sharing in your life

Social media is not the only place where your information gets posted and shared. If you are serious about data privacy and security, then now is a good time to take a close look at all the programs, apps and services you use to determine which might be exposing or sharing your information in a manner that doesn’t sit right with you. Again, looking at terms of service is a good place to start, as are any in-app or on-site security or privacy settings. Many sites will even include an explanation in their FAQ or support section detailing what information is collected, if it’s shared and how. You will also want to check with services you use — even your doctor’s office or school — to find out what is done with any data collected. Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the better you can protect yourself from data theft and other misuse of your information.

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