Who owns your data? From corporations to criminals, there's no shortage of people trying to access the information you generate online. Many feel unable to protect themselves from companies like Google and Facebook, but it doesn’t have to be a losing battle. Understanding data privacy and security is the first step to maintaining your digital autonomy.
Data privacy is how we choose to maintain our privacy online, where information is a highly sought-after commodity.
It’s important to know who is viewing our activities online and what they're doing with that information. Allowing larger companies to track and store your data can have unexpected consequences, so you should have a say in the matter.
It's easy to focus on the dangers of hackers and malicious actors, but that's only half the story. Protecting your privacy can be just as important as maintaining your data security.
It’s worth defining the difference between “data security” and “data privacy”. Though similar, these concepts are different:
It's easy to focus on security, since the dangers involved seem more pressing. Cyberattacks are on an unprecedented rise right now. From phishing to password cracking to IP spoofing, there are a lot of strategies that hackers can use to steal your data.
When it comes to corporations and legitimate online services, however, people feel less certain about how to maintain their autonomy and privacy. They’re (usually) not breaking the law, and you might even be using a product that you signed the terms and conditions for.
The extent to which your data is legally protected varies depending on where you are. Even within one country – the US, for example – your right to privacy may change depending on the region in which you operate.
The European Union has enacted legislation across all its member states, although individual countries have developed their own standards on top of this. The General Data Protection Regulation law (GDPR) is at the heart of the EU’s privacy controls.
In contrast, US legislators have taken a much more decentralized approach. Laws protecting citizens’ data are enacted and enforced through federal bodies (most notably the FTC) and state legislators.
On the national level, laws like the Federal Trade Commission Act allow government bodies to take legal action against corporations that engage in “deceptive practices”, but this is an intentionally open-ended term that leaves room for further interpretation. There are more specific regulations at the state level. This means that data protection laws will vary in focus and efficiency from one jurisdiction to the next.
That’s why it’s important that internet users in the US are fully aware of their rights within their specific state, and take the necessary steps to protect themselves.
Data is valuable. Information on users and their online activity is an important commodity. Everyone from Facebook and Google to minor app developers depends on it for revenue. Even your internet service provider – the company that you pay for your connectivity – probably monetizes your data.
Once you’ve given away your data to one company, it’s very hard to limit its use. While you might feel comfortable with Amazon or Facebook using your personal information, you just can’t be sure that other “third-party” companies and even government agencies won’t also find ways of access it.
There are three key ways you can lose control of your data privacy:
Many internet users report feeling helpless in the face of these tech giants, but that doesn't have to be the case. There’s plenty you can do to empower yourself and level the playing field.
Here are some simple methods for protecting your data and improving online security and privacy:
Understanding data privacy allows you to take control of your online presence. It empowers you to push back against the massive tech giants that have hitherto been able to harvest data without restrictions.
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