Why you need to be careful with your Personal data

Have you ever wondered why so many email, social media, and online communication services are free to use, and yet we still have to pay for a postage stamp? How is this possible? It’s possible because many of our favourite social platforms collect huge amounts of information about their users, and then use this harvested data to sell targeted advertising. We, and our data, have all become the ‘product’ that these companies are selling. So many of us blindly hand over our personal information, lured in by the promise of a fun app, a convenient way to share our photos with far-flung family members, or even by a discount on our next supermarket shop. But few of us stop to read the terms and conditions when we initially sign up to these services; and it’s not as if we have any choice – if you don’t agree to the terms and conditions, you don’t get to play with the shiny new product or service! And once the data is out there, being sold on, it could very easily be shared with 10,000 other businesses, some of which might adopt more aggressive marketing techniques, making for much irritating spam in our email inboxes, or unwanted SMS messages or calls to our phones. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that trust, between the public and the businesses and organisations who regularly harvest our data, is a rare commodity these days. A factor not helped by all too regular reports on news channels of businesses losing great swathes of the data that they’ve collected over the years – our data! And it’s not just business that’s collecting data. Governments are increasingly collecting information on their populace, sometimes with the intention of making our lives better – through better healthcare and transport systems – but more sinisterly, as in the case of China, to rank their civilians, grading them in terms of how ‘good’ (read, obedient) a civilian they are, which, it has to be said, has very significant, and sinister, ‘1984’ connotations.

Posted by Aneka Goulbourne on 9th Jan 2017
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Comments (6)

Peter Garner

14 March 2018

Good point, and if you look at the"free" solutions and apps and compare them with the "secure" alternatives, you'll find the free versions are ridiculously easy to use. No wonder people go the "free" option and suffer as a result!

Paul Martyn Smith Ba (Hons)

09 December 2017

Does the right to data portability under GDPR increase the risks of breaches ?

David Michael Townsend

09 April 2017

It is said, some IT organisations gather information, as sound. If this is so, what happens to next door's conversations. Is the owner of the device liable? If so, why? What about the app owner/marketer? It sounds like a 'legal quagmire', that negates the true value of IT?

Katrina Zoldak

11 January 2017

It seems that more and more people are setting up two or more email accounts just to cope with the ever-increasing levels of spam mail that they are being sent. People are using one selectively private account to communicate with their family and friends and then another, more business-like account, to do their online shopping and to facilitate social media interactions with. Many feel that from ‘the off’ businesses are trying to trick them, but this perception could be changed by organisations using a different, more transparent, approach with how they collect information from people.

At the moment, the onus is always on the user to unsubscribe, and there seems to be little or no actual policing of the ‘controls’ that companies have in place that, supposedly, protect the data that they collect. However, many businesses find operating ‘ethically’ much harder than just allowing the grey areas to become more grey, hence it’s unlikely that many will come around to improving the way they operate unless there’s more pressure put upon them by governments and by their more ethically disposed competitors.

Justin Philip Richards

10 January 2017

It quickly becomes apparent that more education and awareness regarding personal data issues is the way forward, although it’s unlikely this issue will be fully solved for this current generation, but might be resolved for the next. This is rather frustrating though, since, somewhat sadly, our digital world seems now to conclude that your information is probably worth more than your life!

In the meantime, all that members of the public can do is to read the terms and conditions* carefully and, where possible, unsubscribe from further offers connected with the original service that they signed up for. By not fully understanding the ramifications of what we’re signing up for we can often be putting ourselves at a serious disadvantage in future. In fact, the law is changing soon, whereby the public will have to ‘opt in’ if they want to receive any further ads or trial services sent to them after signing up for the initial product or service.

Permission to use a person’s data is the key issue. Organisations should be asking our permission at every stage of our data’s management, just as many organisations, such as BCS, have been tasked to do.

Businesses need to be more transparent with why they want our data, who has it, what level security** is in place to protect it, and what they intend to do with it. It should also be far easier to deactivate an account than it currently is, or even to remove one altogether, especially if our experiences with them haven’t been satisfactory.

The vast majority of terms and conditions contracts are unilateral ones and these are often (in 80 per cent of cases) overturned in European courts. *Perhaps some kind of security kite mark is needed to enable us to best determine whether our data is at high or lower risk. It should also be mandatory for businesses to report breaches as soon as possible so that people can react quickly and change their passwords etc.

Sharon Gaskell

09 January 2017

A lot of good can come of sharing data, but only if the source of the data is a trusted source. But what defines a trusted source? Perhaps start with an organisation that doesn’t ask for too much information from its clients, just what it really needs to achieve its short-term goals so that data isn’t stored for lengthy periods without a real and present need. Businesses often ask for too much information on their application forms – does a company really need to know the gender or date of birth of someone if they’re just ordering some head bands online? Most people are okay with organisations using their details for the ‘right’ (read, good) reasons, but the increasing demand by companies for more and more information from their customers, about their customers, for more and more obscure reasons is causing the public to become jaded with the whole online sharing experience and if we don’t see greater levels of transparency soon, the public will start to turn away from using some of these services that promise so much initially, but at perhaps a higher ‘price’ than many are prepared to pay.