How to Take Control of Your Data Health in 2024

Published January 24, 2024

Course Mentioned in this Post: Data Privacy and Technology


When you hear the term “data privacy,” does your mind think of IT-mandated data training? While those trainings may seem theoretical, data privacy and maintaining your data safely is a task all of us should take seriously, especially in our increasingly online world.

The new year is a perfect time to get familiar with your personal data privacy practices and examine the health of your data protection systems. As a first step, review our data health checklist below to take stock of your data and what you can do to protect it.


Consider What Data You Share and How It's Used

For a moment, think about the actions you do every day on your tech devices. Whether it’s sending a text message, searching for answers, or watching your favorite shows, this is all your personal data. Your actions on your devices, especially ones connected to the internet, are tracked, monitored, and logged systematically.

Often this data is used to serve you with more relevant offerings and information such as custom platform settings, targeted advertising, and preferred content. But in the wrong hands, personal data can be used for malicious purposes such as identity theft or financial fraud.

Understanding data privacy is important because it helps users take control of their own information and safeguard it against bad actors. Think of it like this: you probably lock the doors to your home or your vehicle to protect yourself and your belongings. Your data, which contains a multitude of sensitive personal information, should be protected too.

As Harvard Professors Michael D. Smith and Jim Waldo observe in our course Data Privacy and Technology, new digital technologies and surveillance systems are being introduced at a rapid pace. With their emergence, users are faced with an increasing number of privacy challenges and data decisions.

While the platforms themselves have a duty to inform users of how data is being used, you can also take steps to minimize risk and learn what’s within your power to protect.



Your 2024 Personal Data Health Checklist

The items listed below are general advice to help you maintain your personal data health and privacy, but keep in mind Professor Waldo's guidance when it comes to password security as it also applies to other matters of data privacy: 

Doing the simple things listed above will keep you safe from the rest of your family and co-workers, the kid down the block, and a majority of recreational hackers. If you know you are a target of more sophisticated hackers (you are a journalist doing investigative work, or a non-profit investigating human rights violations) then you need a higher level of security; organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have checklists that will tell you what VPNs are best and the like.

Print out this checklist and hang it somewhere you see regularly to remind you to take action on your data!


  • Take stock of your login and password details. If you are logging them, ensure they’re logged in a secure, protected place such as a password manager like 1Password or LastPass. Professor Smith offers his thoughts: 

Centralization of secret information is convenient and a huge security risk. But given the proliferation of sites on which you have to create a login and password, you either use one of these password managers or use a couple of passwords across many sites. The former is still—assuming you use a very strong password for your manager—a better risk than the latter.

  • Assess your email hygiene. Mark any suspicious emails as “spam” and block any senders you don’t know.
  • Check your bank and credit card statements to look for any suspicious activity.
  • Review how your data is being used across any social media platforms. This is usually available in the “settings” tab, or may be an option to view when seeing ads on the platform.


  • Connect with others in your business or family on how your collective data is being used. Ensure everyone is following the same data safety protocol.
  • Protect any sensitive documents using password-protected folders and/or ZIP folders.
  • Educate yourself on the latest news and updates within organizations that have access to your personal data. Review if anything has changed or any leaks have occurred.
  • Review the permissions you’ve granted to applications. Revoke any permissions that no longer seem relevant or feel intrusive.


  • Change your regularly used passcodes, such as your phone’s lock code or your master passwords.
  • Get in touch with any providers who maintain your data, such as medical providers or university organizations, to learn how they’re protecting your information.
  • Permanently delete any unneeded documents or data sources.
  • Consider learning more about data privacy through online courses, such as our 5-week virtual course Data Privacy and Technology, led by Harvard University faculty.

If you’re interested in learning more about how data is used within today’s society and businesses, check out our blog posts on data privacy.

This post is for educational purposes and does not constitute legal advice.

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