Not so long ago, the Cambridge Analytica scandal changed the digital space. Millions of Facebook users were involved in one of the biggest data scandals in the history of our digital age. But more importantly, billions were made aware of the spooky reality of what happens behind tech companies’ closed doors.
Aside from our changed perspective, things have remained the same.
Our private data is still available for anyone to buy, see, and (mis)use.
For years, having physical privacy in our daily lives has been paramount. While users expect the same protections for their digital lifestyle, it is not that easy. While new laws and policies help, they continue to follow the technology instead of taking the initiative.
Why is digital privacy so important?
Digital privacy and information security often define the same thing, but there are subtle differences between them. While information security refers to practices designed for protecting your data against cyber-attacks and unauthorized access, digital privacy is something else.
Digital privacy (also known as online privacy) is about how our data is handled online. And companies allegedly claiming they cannot precisely say how their systems use data is a potential part of the problem.
Data privacy is of crucial importance for our everyday security. How online-based companies use our private data is also affecting our mental health. We feel betrayed, skeptical, and even paranoid. The brands we trust daily store our data and use it against us.
How do they know so much about us?
Our private data was never private, to begin with
When a set of laws regulating data protection GDPR in Europe was passed in 2016, it became obvious that tech giants that we trust with our daily browsing needs had been tracking us and storing our data for years before data privacy became a public concern.
What about consent?
In many cases, online users have been likely tricked into giving their consent. Some of these companies’ intentions to collect, store, and use our data have been disclosed in the notorious Terms and Conditions section under privacy policies. However, nobody reads them, and tech brands know that.
Today, there’s an entire industry around online data collection and analysis. Data scraping is a legitimate practice used by companies to compile massive sets of “public” data.
How do companies collect data without our consent?
Aside from data scraping, which should be allowed only for publicly available information records, companies resort to various data collection techniques. The most effective ones are inseparable from how we use the internet daily. These are the common ones:
- Tracking cookies
Every time you visit a website, it leaves a cookie on your device. That allows the website owner to track you while you’re browsing. Thanks to cookies, companies can get your complete browsing history and IP address, as well as record and analyze your on-site behavior and click-through habits.
- Social media
Social media is a well of abundance for companies that collect data. What various social media platforms store your data and whether they sell it to third parties is subject to constant change, and we will never know the entire story. Remember, this could include all your public posts and private chats!
- Device tracking
Every smart device can be tracked and used to collect geolocation data. Most notably, this means that your smartphone is making you vulnerable. Just think about everything you store on your phone, from your credit card PIN codes to your personal diary. Device tracking is a scary thought.
Why data collection is so important to our privacy
The biggest problem with data collection is that you can never fully know how companies will use your data. Consider how you use the internet daily – you leave your payment credentials every time you shop online, research your medical conditions, and share your address for verification.
You shouldn’t be worried about who has access to this data every time you share it.
In most cases, data collection is used for so-called profiling – creating customer personas that companies use for targeted ad campaigns. That’s why personalized ads follow you to every website you visit. One could argue that personalization is for our sake.
How can we know that companies are storing this data responsibly, though? Data breaches happen constantly; hackers and other cybercriminals can take our private data from these companies at any moment. When that happens, we are exposed to theft, fraud, scam, identity theft, and more.
If you want to protect your data online, you should do a few things daily. First, you need to get to know your browser. Disable cookies and other tracking features and use incognito mode whenever you can. Generate strong passwords and use two-factor authentication.
Using a Virtual Private Network to encrypt your data and mask your IP address whenever incognito mode can’t help you is also helpful. By checking what is your IP, you will find that typically, it reveals your approximate location. Once you use a VPN, this information will be changed to any location you want.
Finally, use your good sense and always browse with data privacy in mind.