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A practical approach for more privacy

Why you should be a bit less honest online

Published by John Opdenakker

Whether it’s at account registration, on a contact form or on a website where you can win a trip to a tropical island, most companies like to gather as much of our personal data as they possibly can.

And it’s certainly not limited to online services. When you register at a hotel, you’re often asked to write down a lot of personal information, which is afterwards entered in a database system of the hotel.

Most people just provide the data without questioning if the company effectively needs all this information. When you place an order the shipping address obviously needs to be real, but there’s no need for the company to know your birth date. People often don’t see harm in providing this data because they’re not aware about how it can be used, shared with other companies, or even worse, leaked on the internet. 

The more online available personal data, the more damage criminals can do. 

Personal data is easy to find

I encourage you to search for yourself in a few different search engines. You might be surprised how much personal information you’ll find. 

Another resource criminals eagerly use, is social media. That’s why it’s important to restrict the privacy settings for your social media accounts. 

Tip: if you have a Facebook account certainly check your profile on this site to see what info about you is publicly available.

Only connect on social media with people you know. Malicious actors could connect with you to discover valuable personal information, like for instance your birth date.

In general, it’s strongly advised to limit the personal information you provide online, not only in your social media accounts. Data you don’t provide can’t be abused.

Personal data can be shared with other companies.

Most companies share data with other companies. In the case of PayPal we talk about more than 600 third parties, all of which are potential sources that can leak the data collected by PayPal.

The screenshot below shows only a fraction of the involved companies. On this website you can see all companies and which data is shared with them.

 

Source:  https://rebecca-ricks.com/paypal-data/

Personal data is often leaked

Recently marketing firm Exactis, suffered a severe data breach. Data breaches happen every day, but this one stood out for a few reasons. Records of hundreds of millions of people were leaked and each of the records contained more than 400 personal, often sensitive, data fields. It is also not clear from which source(s) this data originates.

Leaked data is often heavily redistributed and easy to find on the public internet. There’s also a very flourishing online black market where personal data is heavily traded between criminals.

A few more tips for better privacy

Be critical about the personal data you share on- and offline. 

  • Provide the strict minimum of (personal) data. When asked for unnecessary data in mandatory fields, enter fake data.

  • If you only need an account for accessing particular content on a website, consider using a public inbox like mailinator, which isn’t tied to you.

  • Regularly review, and if necessary adapt, the privacy settings of the online services you use.