Guide to Understanding Personal Data
24 Sep

Guide to Understanding Personal Data

Mahipal Nehra

Personal data is something that we often give away pretty freely, whether that’s manually inputting data to create an online account or by accepting cookies on a website.

However, a lot of consumers might not be aware of what personal data is being used for other things. They often know very little about what their data is worth and who looks at it. The reality is that handing over your data can often be used in other ways that go beyond the company that asked for it in the first place.

In this helpful guide, you’ll get an understanding of what personal data is and how it’s used. There are also plenty of data privacy laws that are now in place to help protect and give back control to us as consumers.

By understanding how your personal data is used, you can help secure and prevent it from getting into the wrong hands.

What is personal data?

Personal data is a pretty vague term and can relate to a number of things. The clue is in the word - personal. Anything from your health records, banking details, social security numbers and your address is deemed as personal information.

There’s other data like your social media posts and search-engine results that may also be used to influence your decisions when browsing online. Osano's personal data guide explains in detail what is deemed as personal data so that you know exactly what information of yours is being utilized.

Guide to Understanding Personal Data

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You are often aware of this data being used because you’ve given it over willingly. However, in some cases, you may be completely unaware of it being accessed. Often enough, it’s made clear that the data is being used but when it comes to what it’s used for, that’s when it gets murky.

79% of respondents surveyed by Pew Research Center said that they were somewhat or very concerned with how companies are using the data they collect about them. It’s clear that not everyone truly understands what happens when they give over their personal data.

Personal data helps companies online and offline to advertise certain products or services that you’ll likely end up wanting to purchase. They’re often successful with this because they’re using your personal data to closely align you with something you’ll likely enjoy using or having.

Who has access to the data?

When you agree to the terms regarding the usage of your data, it’s important to take a look at exactly what’s being used beyond what you expect.

Those who have access to your data could sell it on or share it with other sources that could end up with you receiving more promotional material in the post or via other forms of communication.

Data brokers are firms that compile information from public sources like marriage licenses, court documents and property records. They may also be able to gather your browser history, your social media connections and any online purchases you’ve made in the past.

There are certain businesses that will sell your information to those data brokers, which can then be used by other companies, investors, marketers, etc. So ultimately, there’s a lot of your data that will likely go into the hands of those you hadn’t wished or intended to.

The reality is that amassing and selling your data isn’t something that’s illegal and it’s something that has been happening for many years. It’s only now that the online world has increased the amount of data that’s so easily accessible, as well as consumers giving it over without much thought.

Data privacy laws give consumers back control

Thankfully, there are a lot more data privacy laws and acts that have come into place over the last few years. These have helped give consumers back control of their data, seeing as 93% of Americans consider it important to be able to control who can access their personal data.

It’s worthwhile for consumers to know the data privacy laws in place, particularly when it comes to their country of origin. Here are just a few that exist to help protect consumer data.


GDPR was introduced in 2016 and stands for General Data Protection Regulation. It’s a legal framework that sets guidelines when it comes to those who live within the EU when it comes to matters of collecting and processing personal information.

A lot of businesses had to race to meet the deadline when it came to being compliant and one of the biggest fines given was to Amazon for an eye-watering $877 million. EU’s data protection authorities are able to give out fines of up to €20 million or 4% of the company’s annual turnover.

California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA)

The US has no single identifying data privacy law in place for the entire country. Instead, it’s handled by the state and one of the more recent and notable ones is the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA).

The act was passed in 2020 and like GDPR, all those eligible and need to make changes to be compliant will have the opportunity to do so until 2023. CPRA is an amendment to the CCPA of 2018. This one includes more specifics and just like the other data privacy acts in existence, fines will be given to those who don’t comply.

Brazil’s Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados (LGPD)

Over in Brazil, their first major data protection law came around in September 2020. However, just like the others, this was only recently enforced as of August 2021.

As many companies and service providers continue to adapt their data compliance, the Autoridade Nacional de Proteção de Dados (ANPD) is finding ways of enforcing this new data privacy act effectively.

Another notable mention is Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) which has introduced mandatory data breach notifications and exceptions to consent depending on the interests of those needing it. There are increased penalties for non-compliance and 2021 have seen these changes applied to many businesses and organizations.

Tips to ensure your personal data is kept private

As a consumer - because we’re all consumers - how can you keep your personal data private? We’ve put together a few helpful tips that will ensure your personal data is kept secure and avoids being used in ways that weren’t intended.

Read the terms regarding cookies on a site

Every site needs to provide a privacy policy regarding cookies that collect your personal data when going onto a webpage.

With that being said, read the terms regarding cookies so that if you don’t want to be tracked, you can simply disagree. There are some that offer more selection over what information is used and what you specifically do not to.

As more data privacy acts come into place, this is a requirement for many businesses online nowadays.

Guide to Understanding Personal Data

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Avoid sharing your information widely across the internet

Where you can avoid oversharing your information. The more it’s shared over the internet, the more places your data ends up. Only sign up to those sites that you need to and remember to disagree or select your preferences when it comes to cookies tracking your data.

Social media is another platform that can collect your data freely, so you may want to consider how much you’re posting on there too.

Use a VPN for private browsing

A VPN is a private network that allows you to browse the internet freely and without being tracked. It means your data is protected and is a good way of making sure that none of your data is being used without your consent.

There are plenty of opportunities to purchase a VPN and the cost is a small investment to help keep your data private.

Turn off network services when it’s not being used

Cybersecurity is something you want to be conscious of and so it’s worthwhile to turn off your network services when not in use. It means that you prevent cybercriminals from connecting to your device, particularly in public places. Disable them when they’re not being used.

The future of personal data collection

So what does the future of personal data collection look like? Well, the various data privacy acts that have come into play, enables consumers to have more say over what happens to their data.

This is something that was only expected to come about seeing as there are so many ways in which data is collected already just by browsing online and existing in the real world.

In the coming years, we’re likely to have even more technology incorporated into everything we do as humans and that will only enable more sharing of data.

Navigating the use of personal data is one that’s likely going to introduce more data privacy laws and amendments in order to help protect users and their data. We all deserve the right to say how our data is collected, stored and used. However, more transparency is certainly needed to make it clearer on what consumers are giving over. 

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Posted by Mahipal Nehra | Posted at 24 Sep, 2021 Web