How much of your personal data is available online?

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personal data

From social media platforms and ecommerce to apps and Google, your personal data is continually being collected, processed and utilized. While this data is often used for legitimate reasons, such as to personalize advertising, it can also fall into the wrong hands. This can leave you exposed to spam, identity theft and fraud. Here is a look at the types of personal data available online and at how you can protect your privacy.

What types of data are out there?

The data collected on you includes your physical location, buying history, social behaviors and personally identifiable information. Think about all the ways you interact online and you will start to get an idea of the extent of your data footprint. When you join a customer loyalty program, order food online, post on social media, sign into Google or apply for a loan, you are sharing all kinds of data.

Who is collecting this data?

Governments, online companies, social media sites and apps collect data, with Google and Facebook among the leading gatherers. Other examples of firms that collect significant amounts of data are financial service providers, delivery apps and booking sites. There has also been a rise in dedicated data brokers, which specialize in collating and selling information that they scrape from lots of different online sources. Some brokers specialize in certain types of data, such as health information.

What is the data used for?

Data is extremely valuable to companies as they can use it to build up profiles of their customers, to personalize advertising and gain an understanding of their customer base. The obvious example is when you search for a product online and then start getting ads for similar products. Likewise, when you share your email address with one company and then get spammed by others. Data can be shared with so-called third parties for various purposes, which usually require the user to give their explicit consent. This is why it is important to ensure you understand how a website will use your information before sharing any personal data.

Are there laws controlling data collection?

There are pieces of legislation that govern the way companies and organizations collect, store and utilize data from customers and users. Examples include the European Union General Data Protection Regulation and US state laws, including the California Consumer Privacy Act. In addition, countries such as India are in the process of developing or modernizing their data protection framework.

Limiting the amount of personal data available online

If you want to take back control of your data privacy, there are steps you can take to remove your information from the internet. This might sound complicated but it’s really a straightforward (if time-consuming) process which includes optimizing your privacy settings, deleting unused accounts and apps, and opting out of data broker sites.

In addition to limiting the amount of personal data already out there, it is also important to remain vigilant when interacting online, as you cannot guarantee how your information will be shared and how it will be used.

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