How to protect your privacy when you travel

How to protect your privacy when you travel

It hasn’t been an easy year for the privacy of travelers, at least so far. Data breaches, surveillance worries and those troublesome cameras in airplane seatbacks and hotel rooms are enough to make passengers paranoid.

Maybe they should be.

More:Guests at 30 South Korean hotels secretly filmed, live-streamed for paying customers

“Travelers are particularly vulnerable to security threats because they are in a different environment with unfamiliar risks,” says Adam Dean, a senior security specialist with GreyCastle Security, a cybersecurity services provider in New York. “Generally speaking, travelers should assume they have no privacy and know that somebody is always watching.”

Fortunately, there are ways to safeguard your privacy on land and in the air. These tips can help you deal with cameras, data breaches and visual hackers.

“Your privacy is being compromised pretty much everywhere,” warns France Bélanger, a frequent traveler and a business professor at Virginia Tech. Generally, the key to protecting your privacy is to limit access to your information, she says.

Airlines say that the cameras in their seatback entertainment systems are disabled. But cameras in other locations may not be.

What to do about cameras

Airlines swear – swear! – that the cameras in their seatback entertainment systems are disabled. But cameras in other locations may not be. The most troubling ones are in vacation rentals, like the one an Indiana couple discovered in their Airbnb rental in Longboat Key, Florida.  

More:United Airlines is covering up cameras on seatbacks amid privacy backlash

“Some homeowners renting their residences through home-sharing services may install security cameras,” says Mike Tanenbaum, head of cyber for Chubb’s North America operation. “Travelers should find out if the hosts are required to disclose the presence of surveillance devices.”

If the rental comes with cameras, ensure they aren’t in a sensitive area by conducting a careful sweep. Report anything suspicious to the host immediately – and if you don’t like what you hear, leave.

More:How to check for hidden cameras in your hotel room or vacation rental

What to do about data breaches

Although you can’t control how a hotel or airline handles – or mishandles – your data, you can take reasonable steps to ensure the information it has won’t get you into trouble. Some savvy travelers say they offer the bare minimum, such as a P.O. box instead of a home address.

But some of the worst data breaches happen when you’re staying at a hotel, according to Mike O’Rourke, the CEO of international security management consultancy Advanced Operational Concepts. For example, a hotel clerk sometimes asks for your name and then announces your room number after you’ve checked in. You’re better off handing the employee your ID when he or she asks for your name and asking the employee to write your room number on a piece of paper. Why? Because there are other people in the lobby, and they could be listening.

“I’ve seen my entire credit card number on hotel receipts,” O’Rourke says. “Just to be sure, never leave the customer copy behind. You can destroy it later, but keep it under your control until you do.”

What to do about nosy seatmates

People are watching. They see you typing your password on your laptop and read the content of your screen. The problem, called visual hacking, is serious. According to a study by 3M, more than 90% of visual hacking attempts are successful.

You need to take precautions when you’re on the road, says Josh McCormick, the vice president of operations for Mr. Electric, an electrical installation and repair services company. “Consider getting a privacy filter that covers your laptop or tablet,” he says. “These screens let the user see the content on the screen from a front-on view, while anyone trying to view the content from the next seat over will see a black screen and nothing else.”