A recent survey by Incogni revealed that 90% of Americans have experienced online scams, and 74% say that the internet isn’t getting any safer. Clearly, there is a problem with online safety, but how does internet privacy figure into it?
The answer becomes obvious when you consider two key factors: data is basically the internet’s currency, and most cybercriminals use data to prey on their victims.
Most websites collect, store, and sell or trade user data, which is why so many of our favorite services are free. But with data breaches, identity theft, and online scams increasing yearly, of course, these companies are extra careful with how they handle user data, right?
Many websites collect data without your knowledge, sell it to third parties without your consent, and often don’t put the necessary safety measures like encryption in place to protect it. This is why internet privacy is so important.
To fully understand the issue and protect yourself, here’s what you need to know:
What is internet privacy?
Internet privacy is an individual’s right to privacy when it comes to the storing, use of, and sharing of personal information online. It covers anything such as data sharing protocols, privacy statements and options on websites, and data transparency initiatives that protect users’ privacy online.
When used in the context of internet privacy, personal information can refer either to personally identifiable information (PII) or non-PII information. PII is any information that can be traced back to an individual’s identity. This can be just your age and address, which can be used to find exactly who you are.
Non-PII can include data such as browsing history, device type, or language preferences. While this can be considered “anonymous” data, it can also be a threat to your internet privacy. In fact, 99.98% of people included in anonymous data sets can be correctly re-identified.
This means that almost any data point related to you online can become a real threat to your privacy.
Is my internet privacy protected by law?
While there is no federal law governing internet privacy, the United States has several state laws in place. Among the most comprehensive is the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Several other states, including Colorado, Virginia, Connecticut, Utah, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, have individual laws and bills regulating data privacy.
Residents of countries in the European Union, as well as Switzerland, are covered by the General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR). This regulation uses 7 key principles, including data integrity and confidentiality, purpose limitation, and accountability, to protect the privacy of internet users.
Post-Brexit, the United Kingdom has its own version of the GDPR - the United Kingdom General Data Protection Regulation. It is modeled after the European GDPR and follows the same principles.
Canada has The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). This federal law ensures Canadian residents’ data is kept safe and private by giving them access to the data organizations hold on them and enforcing appropriate safeguards in how data is handled by the organizations.
While the laws around internet privacy as slowly growing in number and strength, many people are still left outside of their protection. Even many of those protected by such laws and regulations are turning to private solutions like Incogni to help them secure their online privacy.
What really happens to my personal information online?
The Internet runs on data. It has become so valuable that it’s the new oil of the digital economy. Almost any website you visit or app you download collects your personal information. While a lot of that data is used to optimize the user experience, it isn’t all so innocent.
This is why so many of our favorite online services are free. We pay with our (extremely valuable) data. Companies collect loads of our personal information, from the basics like name, age, and contact details, to the downright scary like Social Security Numbers, location history, and information on household members.
Some of the biggest offenders are companies like Google or Meta, the apps we download to our devices, and data brokers that collect from and sell to all other parties involved in the data trade. In fact, the trade and sale of data are so lucrative that the data brokerage industry is worth around $2.5 billion a year and growing rapidly.
The worst part is that many of these companies aren’t super transparent about what they do with your data. They use technologies such as cookies and pixel tracking and long, confusing legal language to get your data. So many people have no idea what’s really going on.
Should you be worried about your internet privacy?
The number and the scope of cybercrimes like data breaches and identity theft worldwide are growing every year. According to the 2021 Annual Data Breach Report by Identity Theft Resource Center, there were 68% more breaches in 2021 than in the previous year.
Cybercriminals rely on data to target victims for phishing, scams, identity theft, and even stalking or online harassment. And, of course, the more data you have online, the more vulnerable you are to these types of attacks.
Data brokers selling this information to third parties and even curious individuals online makes the situation much worse. This was highlighted in a recent Last Week Tonight episode about data brokers. During the episode, John Oliver covered stories of domestic abuse and stalking victims who are in physical danger because of the information data brokers sell online.
Aside from the criminal threats, having too much of your data online can cause more everyday consequences, ranging from annoying spam messages and robocalls to financially detrimental.
Health insurance companies can buy your health-related search history and use it to increase your insurance rates. Banks and credit companies also purchase data online to asses risk, which could lead to loan, mortgage, and credit card denials.
But most companies and data brokers rely on your data for business as well and cannot be trusted to have your best interest at heart. So what should you do?
How can you protect your online privacy?
The short answer is – you need to get as much of your data offline as possible. You can do this by using private browsing, deleting unused online accounts, optimizing your privacy settings on accounts you decide to keep, and disabling tracking cookies.
Admittedly, this is a lot of work. 80% of Americans think the government should be doing more to protect them online. However, with the lack of comprehensive laws in so many locations around the world, internet privacy is still largely up to the individual.
The best way to stop the dissemination of your personal information online is by stopping data brokers from selling and trading it online. However, according to a recent study conducted by Surfshark, that may take up to 66 years to do it yourself manually.
This is where Incogni comes in. They will clean up data that is already circulating the web via data brokers. And with a yearly subscription, you can keep your data off these websites and prevent spreading your data online. The best part is that this is all fully automated, meaning you won’t have to spend any time worrying about it.
All you have to do is sign up, give Incogni the right to deal with data brokers on your behalf, and let them do all the work for you.