A recent global survey shockingly reveals that 85% of respondents are oblivious to the fact that their private digital footprints are being harvested and sold at scale by technology companies.
How Your Data is Harvested
In the digital sphere, your actions leave a ‘digital footprint’. Every website visit or online interaction gets recorded, and these chronicles are your digital history. Some tech corporations systematically assemble this information, forming data profiles.
“These data profiles can provide an oddly omniscient perspective of your online persona. Frighteningly, these profiles are transacted continually and lucratively in the unregulated data marketplace,” states Steffan Black, a leading expert at Zenshield.
Such profiles can include:
- Personal identifiers: Names, addresses, dates of birth
- Consumer behavior: Purchase history, clicked ads, preferred websites
- Social behavior: Friends, interactions, likes and dislikes on social media
- Professional details: Job positions, LinkedIn activity, email details
The Impact on Society
Effectively, such a trade strikes at the core of the notions of privacy and consent. People are often unaware that their personal information is being utilized without their permission, thereby manifesting into feelings of mistrust and anxiety. This deceptive trade has diverse impacts:
- Proliferation of Targeted Advertising: According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, over 80% of internet users in the United States feel that they have been tracked by advertisers or social media platforms, leading to targeted advertisements.
- Rise of Cybercrimes: In a report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft complaints in the United States reached 1.4 million in 2022, marking a significant increase from previous years.
- Dissemination of Misinformation and Fake News: A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that false information spreads six times faster than true information on social media platforms.
How to protect your data ?
There’s no need for despair, as Black affirms, “Awareness is the first step towards the resolution of this issue.” Here are some proactive tips to guard your digital footprint.
- Be Conscious About Sharing: Over 60% of identity theft cases involve the theft of personal information shared willingly by the victim. Avoid providing unnecessary personal information, especially on public forums and websites. Be mindful of what you share online to minimize the risk of data misuse.
- Update Your Settings: A survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 29% of social media users regularly adjust their privacy settings. Regularly review and update the privacy settings on your social media accounts. Limit the visibility of your personal information to ensure that only trusted individuals have access to it.
- Employ Encryption and VPN: According to a study by Cybersecurity Ventures, the global market for Virtual Private Networks (VPN) is expected to reach $107 billion by 2027. Use encrypted messaging apps for secure communication, and consider using a VPN to protect your online activities from prying eyes. This is especially important when using public Wi-Fi networks.
- Delete Unnecessary Data: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that many data broker websites store vast amounts of personal information, contributing to privacy concerns. Regularly audit and delete unnecessary personal data stored online. Explore options to request the removal of your data from data broker websites to minimize its accessibility.
Sailing into Digital Waters
The internet, an ocean of information and connections, can bring us great joys and conveniences. Yet the depths of these digital waters are also fraught with unseen risks. This discussion hopes to illuminate the unregulated trade of personal data that permeates beneath the surface, thereby enabling us to navigate these waters more securely.
Today’s fast-evolving digital landscape commands awareness, education, and vigilance about preserving online privacy. As Steffan Black succinctly puts it, “We must each take responsibility for safeguarding not only our digital footprints but also the footprints of our society at large.” Remember, privacy is not a privilege, but a fundamental right.