Tips for Maintaining Online Privacy

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Lately there has been a tremendous amount of concern around privacy, specifically around Google and Facebook. This made me think about privacy for the financial industry.

First, let me start by saying there is no such thing as individual privacy anymore. People freely give their information to Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. These are businesses that make money by gathering information. That said, I do not think they are as big a privacy threat as the media is making. Because these sites are in the business of gathering information and making money from that information, for any one of these companies to give up gathering and sharing information is simply destroying their businesses. I think the bigger issue is if one of these companies is purchased. What happens to the information that was collected?

Financial advisers are regulated and monitored for almost everything, including privacy. But there are some things that every firm should think about:

  • What exposure does the firm have by allowing employees to use any social media products? Many firms have stopped personal email accounts via Google, Yahoo, etc.
  • When doing a search on Google, remember that information is being tracked. What are the risks?
  • Employees are always connecting to “fun and free” stuff.  Nothing is ever free! Recently, I found a PC that had some really funny and cool videos as a screen saver. Upon further investigation I found it was slowing down the PC and it was sending information back to its servers. Fortunately it was nothing threatening, but it could have been disastrous.  Imagine if it was sending sensitive information back to its server. This is technically possible.

Another thing to think about is clients creating exposure risks to themselves and to the firm, through, for instance, sharing IDs and passwords—unfortunately, clients do it all the time. Anything advisers send via email can be easily forwarded. Remember, clients are also using Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. Fortunately, regulators will not likely go to this level when thinking about privacy. But as we all know too well, clients may blame the firm. There is no solution to this problem because technology has made true privacy a thing of the past. But it would be a good idea to at least minimize the risk to the firm by communicating a few things to clients.

Here are some ideas on how to best maintain at least some privacy on the Internet. (I am thinking about making a YouTube video on this topic. If you are interested, send me an email at ash@riaico.com and I’ll let you know when it is posted.)

Items you will never ask for from the client:

  • Account numbers
  • Social security number
  • Date of birth
  • IDs and passwords

Items you will never communicate via email:

  • Account numbers
  • Personal information
  • IDs and passwords
  • Account balance

 

Ash Bhatnagar, CFP®
President
RIA Independence Co.
Princeton, N.J.

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