How Transparent Is Your Private Data Online
In today’s Internet-connected world, it’s sometimes a bit unnerving to find out how much of your supposedly private data is actually available online. Of course, you might actually be responsible for posting some of this data, such as is the case with social networking websites, blogs and other websites.
However, in many cases you may also find websites that publish your personal data without your consent or knowledge. In fact, some of this data might be incorrect, misleading or even damaging to your Internet reputation. How transparent is your private data online, and are you sharing this information voluntarily — or involuntarily?
Use caution when posting private data on social networking websites.
Social networking websites are quickly becoming part of many people’s daily lives. Individuals use these websites to share information with friends, family and even business associates and customers. In some cases, you may feel comfortable sharing your information with the world.
However, there may also be times when you don’t wish to be quite as transparent with your personal information. If this is the case, learning to use a website’s privacy settings is absolutely essential. When used properly, these security and privacy settings allow you to share the information you wish to share, while keeping some of your data private.
However, it’s important to realize that just because you’ve adjusted your privacy settings doesn’t change the fact that your information is available online. If a website closes down and goes offline, what will happen to your data? When this happens, it’s likely that any personal data stored on the website might simply be up for grabs. If a website you’ve previously used is acquired or sold, your personal data could suddenly end up in new hands. If this were to happen, your private information could be much more transparent than you had originally intended.
There are many types of personal data online.
In addition to the personal data you choose to share by means of publishing it yourself, there are also a number of other types of data available online. Bank statements, credit card numbers, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, home property values, credit histories and criminal records are other examples. Although sometimes this data is meant to be kept private, in many cases the information is public record.
In the past this information may have been searchable on the official source website, buy today it’s often aggregated and presented on people-search websites. This aggregation of personal data makes gleaning information about a person online much easier and faster. Unfortunately, people-search sites also post misinformation because name and identity mistakes frequently occur. These websites frequently sell your personal data to anyone who is willing to pay for it, so it’s hard to tell where it could ultimately end up.
It’s also important to consider the various methods by which your personal information can get published on the Internet. Sometimes this occurs in ways you wouldn’t even expect, such as using your credit card or by using a frequent shopper or rewards card at a grocery store. If you wonder just how transparently your personal data is being shared, try doing a search for yourself on one of the people-search websites. You might be shocked and dismayed as to what you discover.
Laws that regulate the use of personal data vary from country to country.
So, it is not always apparent how transparent is your private data online. Different countries have different policies and laws that regulate how personal data is allowed to be used. For example, Europe has strict laws that govern the processing, use and disclosure of personal data.
However, in the United States, personal data isn’t solely protected by government regulations. Instead, legislation, regulation and even self-regulation all factor into the equation. To date, the United States doesn’t have a law similar to what exists in Europe to protect personal data. In fact, legislation tends to be put in place only when specific circumstances require action. As a result, personal data privacy isn’t handled in any kind of consistent fashion on the Internet, due to a lack of privacy regulations.
Online breaches sharpen focus on data transparency.
Each new publicized online breach has exposed the dangers of data transparency, revealing how little control a person can have over it. Websites have been hacked into, data has been leaked by various sources, and the privacy practices of some popular websites have been questioned. Although a certain amount of transparency can be considered a good thing, bad things can happen when your private data is revealed without your knowledge or consent.
Take action to control your private data.
Until legislation is put in place to govern online privacy issues, it’s necessary for individuals to handle their own self-regulation and protection. If you’re concerned that your private data could be involuntarily made public, here are some steps you can take:
- Using good online judgment can be one of your best forms of protection.
- Don’t fall victim to spammers, identity thieves, phishing schemes and other online scams.
- Be mindful of what you sign up for online, including the websites you join and the “free services” you choose to use.
- If you feel a website is asking for too much personal data, simply leave it.
- Use secure passwords; don’t share your information with strangers; and don’t sign up for anything that you don’t completely understand or trust.
- If something appears too good to be true, chances are it probably is.
- If something seems a bit sketchy or suspicious, follow your instincts, and just stay away.
Until there are stronger privacy laws in place, a good internet reputation management and privacy protection service can help secure your data, giving you peace of mind. Know–how transparent is your private data online.
Susan Campbell is an independent privacy consultant and author of several articles on online privacy management and reputation management.