What is Data Privacy & What Can You Do About It?

Posted on Sep 23, 2022 by Chaviva Fiskus

What is Data Privacy and What You Can Do About It?

Think about it for a moment. Would you share the combination to your safe with anyone? Would you leave your jewelry store’s glass display cases open and unattended? We all know you wouldn’t. You have locks installed for a reason. 

With data becoming more digitized, sharing information online is a lot easier. While it allows you to connect with the world, online data collection and possession can expose people to hacking, phishing, and identity theft

Data privacy is not just a business concern – it’s also a personal issue. So, knowing what data privacy is and why it’s essential to you is more important than ever. Find everything you need to know about data privacy and what steps you can take to protect yourself online.

What is Data Privacy?

Also referred to as information privacy, data privacy implies protecting private information provided to public and private actors in various contexts. It generally means the ability of a person to determine for themselves if, how, and to what extent they communicate or share their confidential information with others. This personal information includes your name, financial information, medical information, workplace location, contact information, online activities, or real-life behavior.

Just as you may wish to exclude certain people from a private conversation you have in person, you’ll also want complete control over your data online and who can access it.

With the increase in internet usage, data privacy has become somewhat tricky. More often than not, online applications, social media platforms, and websites collect and store your data to improve user experience and provide a better service. However, this can leave your privacy at-risk. 

Some apps don’t use sufficient cybersecurity measures to protect your data, meaning almost anyone could steal it. Other apps openly share your data with third parties for marketing and other purposes. Most of the time, they make money selling your data, without you even knowing who it’s being shared with.

Consequences of Data Breaches

What happens when there is a data breach?

Data breaches affect both individuals and organizations. Those affected by stolen data often have to change their passwords frequently, freeze their credit cards, and actively monitor their identity. 

Organizations failing to do their due diligence in protecting their data may be liable to victims following a data breach no matter how hard they tried to protect it in the first place. They’ll also be responsible for notifying victims about the stolen information.

For businesses, a data breach can negatively impact a company’s reputation and finances. Large, reputable organizations such as Equifax, Target, and Yahoo, for example, have all fallen victim to serious data breaches. As a result, many people lost trust in these companies, causing damage beyond lost and stolen data. 

Data breaches can also be costly. IBM reports the average cost of a breach is over $4 million. Additionally, the non-monetary cost of a tarnished reputation is something many companies battle with for years after.

For people, identity theft is a major threat to their data. The information revealed by a data leak ranges from social security numbers to banking information. Having these details allows criminals to commit all types of fraud under your name. If you’re a victim of identity theft, your credit may be ruined, you may face legal claims, and trying to recover what you’ve lost can be very difficult.

Why is Data Privacy Important for Users?

When data falls into the wrong hands, bad things inevitably happen. Data privacy is particularly important for two reasons:

  1. Data is one of your most important assets. With the availability of online data increasing, businesses find enormous value in collecting, using, and sharing data. 

Big tech companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple, and Microsoft built empires based largely on collecting user data. Building trust and accountability with customers and partners who expect privacy is more manageable when companies are transparent about the data they collect, their privacy policies, and how they manage the data. 

  1. Individuals have the right to privacy free from unwarranted surveillance

Online users should trust the platforms they use to protect their data in order to engage in free speech and expression. 

However, it’s easy for your data to fall into the wrong hands if not kept private. In particular, cybercriminals can access your information and use it for illegal purposes such as identity theft and fraud. Certain types of sensitive information may also be used for personal harassment, stalking, or other dangerous behavior.

In addition, companies can crawl the internet to find and use specific sets of data. For instance, many organizations can find out about your online behaviors, including search history and browsing habits, from data brokers. They can then use this information to target you, such as by sending marketing emails – especially if your email is public knowledge. 

What’s the Difference Between Data Privacy and Data Security?

Although often used interchangeably, data privacy and security are not quite the same. Many organizations believe securing private information from hackers complies with data privacy regulations. This isn’t necessarily the case.

  • Data privacy – governance of how data is used, collected, and shared by the owner with outside parties.
  • Data security – protecting data from both external and internal threats.

Are There Data Privacy Laws?

In the United States, data protection legislation isn’t centralized at the federal level, despite numerous proposals over the years. In order to safeguard the personal data of all Americans, federal and state governments enacted a complex patchwork of laws specific to certain sectors and businesses.

An almost 50-year old law on technology can’t survive on amendments alone.

In the 20th century, back when databases were the height of computer technology, Congress expressed deep concern about the potential misuse of personal data possessed by the government. Therefore, they passed the US Privacy Act of 1974, which safeguards citizens’ privacy rights and puts restrictions on data held by US government agencies.

The Privacy Act states the following:

  • US citizens have the right to access and copy data held by the government.
  • US citizens have the right to correct any errors in their information.
  • Government agencies must follow data minimization principles when collecting data – precisely, information that is relevant and necessary to accomplish its purpose.
  • Access to data is restricted on a need-to-know basis, e.g., employees requesting information about their job roles.
  • Sharing data with other government agencies is restricted and only allowed under certain conditions.

The US recently proposed a new bill to give citizens more control over their data. Effectively, they would have extensive rights to update, delete, access, and port their personal data. It would also give them the right to pursue civil action against violations. Although it hasn’t passed yet, the American Data Privacy Protection Act (ADPPA) suggests online users will have more control over their data and privacy in the future.

The US also has various sector-specific and medium-specific laws which govern how organizations in certain industries can gather, store, and use data. In particular, industries dealing with telecommunications, health information, credit information, and financial institutions. This includes the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Act (HIPAA), Gramm Leach Bliley Act (GLBA), Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).  

Data privacy laws also vary from country to country. The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) law, for example, regulates how companies and organizations in the European Union should use (and protect!) the personal information of EU citizens. 

In particular, the GDPR regulates that no company can collect, store, or use data without an individual’s consent. In addition, it adopts the ‘opt-in’ rule rather than ‘opt-out’. Effectively, this provision of the GDPR means organizations cannot automatically opt-in users to receive marketing communications and other targeted content. Instead, users must opt in themselves.

How to Ensure Your Data Stays Private

It’s not a question of if your data will be collected but when and how. Now that you understand what data privacy is and why it’s crucial, it’s time to take action to protect your data. Here are some tips to get started:

  • Secure all your accounts online using a password manager.
  • Protect your web browsing by disabling interest-based ads, particularly from Google, Facebook, Apple, and Twitter. You can use a browser extension to block ads.
  • Use antivirus software on your computer. PIA has an excellent antivirus add-on for Windows machines.
  • Watch out for links with attachments in your messages and emails. Cybercriminals are notorious for composing phishing scams to look like legitimate communications from utility companies, banks, or other corporate entities.
  • Check to see if the site you’re browsing is secure by looking at the top of your browser. The site is secure if you see a lock symbol or “https” on the URL link.
  • Don’t overshare on social media. Check your privacy settings regularly to see who is viewing your posts. Be extremely cautious when posting your location, hometown, address, birthday, or other personal information.
  • Use a VPN to secure your data and avoid online tracking and monitoring. 

Protect Your Data With Private Internet Access 

Taking steps to keep your data private is critical. While practices like avoiding unsecured links, vetting apps, and watching which information you share online are all important, the risk of data breaches and theft remains high. 

For added protection, use PIA VPN to secure your data and stay anonymous online. Our VPN uses military-grade 256-bit AES encryption, which encrypts your data with an unbreakable code. No one – not even a tech-savvy cybercriminal – can access your VPN traffic. Plus, we abide by a strict No Logs policy, so we don’t collect or store any of your information

With PIA, you can browse the internet free from tracking, monitoring, and lurking cybercriminals. Test us out for yourself risk-free with our 30-day money-back guarantee.

Online Privacy – Too Good to Be True?

Can you ever stay private online? The truth is, probably not. 

More of us post our data online than ever before, especially on social media – from our email addresses to where we’ve just been on vacation. We also share huge amounts of personal data with organizations, including sensitive details like our health history, date of birth, and address. And we trust these apps and platforms to look after our data, but not all of them do.

Whether it’s cybercriminals who gain access to systems to steal your data, or data brokers who share your ad profile with thousands of third parties, your privacy is at risk. Although you can’t ever be truly private online, you can protect yourself. Think about what you share, where, and with whom. Above all else, use a VPN to protect your information.

FAQ

What does data privacy mean?

The right to privacy refers to the right of citizens to control how their personal information is collected and used. It also includes the ability to keep personal information secure, so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. However, not all companies are successful in keeping data private and secure. 

To protect your online privacy, use PIA VPN. Our app uses top-level encryption to secure your data and keep you invisible online. That way, your data is for your eyes only.

Is data privacy important?

Keeping your data private is crucial. Without taking adequate steps to secure your data, the risk of fraud, hacking, phishing, and identity theft is especially high. So too is the risk of organisations finding and using your data for targeted advertising, emails, or simply just to share with other third parties for monetary gain. 

Thankfully, a VPN helps you avoid the worst data privacy risks. PIA VPN combines encryption with a strict No Logs policy to hide your online activities, ensuring you leave no data trail online. 

What’s the difference between data privacy and data security?

Data privacy refers to the amount of control you have over the ways in which your personal data is collected, saved, used, and exchanged, i.e. how it’s governed. 

Data security protects your data against unauthorized access or use, which could result in theft, exposure, or deletion of that data. A prime example of data security would be using encryption to prevent hackers from accessing and stealing your data. 

We’re rarely private online. Companies and apps track our every minute online, gathering data about our search history, locations, browsing habits, and more. Thankfully, you can get PIA VPN to limit tracking for good. 

Our VPN uses encryption to hide your data and keep you anonymous, so companies can’t find you. We also use ad blocking to stop harmful ads, scrips, and trackers from collecting your information.

Are there data privacy laws?

In the US, the Data Privacy Protection Privacy Act places some restrictions on which data companies can collect, as well as the rights of individuals to access their data. 

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) governs EU data collection, regulating how companies collect data, particularly focusing on an individual’s right to consent.

Although data protection regulations promote privacy, it doesn’t stop companies from collecting your information altogether. To add extra protection, use a good VPN. PIA combines tough encryption with tough protocols, like WireGuard, to securely hide your data and keep you safe from data collection.

How does PIA ensure my data is private?

At PIA, we take your digital privacy and online freedom very seriously. When you connect to our VPN, we hide your IP address and traffic, so, essentially, you’re invisible online

Our VPN app includes tough encryption and secure VPN protocols, plus ad and tracking blockers, to stop anyone from accessing your data. And because we have a No Logs policy, we don’t collect any of your data, either. If you need any help setting up, speak to our friendly Customer Support.

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