Spring Clean Your Data

Spring is a time when you might tackle less frequent cleaning tasks. There are corners to be dusted and gutters to be cleaned. Spring can be a good time to address the “cobwebs” in your digital world, too.

Understanding the types of data that you create and that you work with at the university can be important before you find the best home for it. Look at a guide to Data Classification for a refresher.

It’s easy to let things lapse or pile up because there is always new data coming in. However, taking a few minutes to clean up your existing data is not just good for inbox zero goals, it can protect you and others from data loss or breach.

Here are five places to spring clean:

  1. Clean your online leftovers.
    Personally Identifiable Information, browsing habits, search history, and even location data are stored locally and on remote servers. Cookies gather additional details like preferences and login information, especially if you click without reading the cookie policies. Sometimes this data is shared with other parties-like advertisers-without your consent. Clear your browsing history and cookies, use privacy settings, and set your browser to incognito mode. All these can help limit exposure to personal information sharing.

  2. Review collaborative files in places such as Teams/SharePoint or Box.
    Ask yourself if the data still needs to be kept and who has access to it. Purge unneeded files. Set permissions and revoke access accordingly so that data is accessible only to those who need it. This includes both internal and external parties, including team members, contractors, vendors, and third-party apps.

  3. Inspect your email inbox and folders.
    Check your email inbox and folders for messages with important data, such as passwords, financial and tax information, medical data, authentication details, and social security numbers. Move these to an encrypted folder, cloud storage service, or backup device and delete them from your email account.

  4. Review applications on your phone.
    We seem to use our phones for everything and it’s easy to default to open data sharing with your phone and its apps. There are several actions you can take to better protect data when using a phone.

    – Use strong passwords and add biometric authentication such as a fingerprint scan to unlock the device.
    – Avoid unknown downloads and review app permissions.
    – Delete unused apps.
    – Regularly update your phone’s operating system and apps.
    – Review and limit the permissions that apps request.
    – Turn off Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and location services when not in use. You may also delete previous Wi-Fi connection from your device.
    – Clear your browsing history and cache.
    – Turn off unnecessary features when not in use and regularly back up your data.

  5. Understand what happens to the data you provide generative AI.
    Generative AI tools can help with tasks, processes, and data insights. But they also create new issues and challenges for data privacy and security, such as quality, bias, transparency, and accountability. Before using these tools, read privacy policies and understand your data privacy rights.

    Review the settings in your AI tool. If given the option, don’t allow the AI model to learn from your interactions with it. Investigate how to delete data you input after a certain period of time. Make sure that your data is accurate, reliable, and aligned with your goals and values.

Depending on how much data or how many files you find, you may need to repeat this process more than once. Take five minutes for each of these five areas, and you’ve spent less than a half hour but protected valuable assets.