What the hell is online privacy?

Your personal data is important, but what is personal data, and why is it actually important?

What the hell is online privacy?

My previous post talked about Google killing off FLoC, which is talked about as a win for online privacy. But... what is online privacy and why does it matter?

The International Association of Privacy Professionals defines it as:

Broadly speaking, privacy is the right to be let alone, or freedom from interference or intrusion. Information privacy is the right to have some control over how your personal information is collected and used.

Basically, companies collect data about you but it's your right to decide if, when and how it's gathered and used.

Okay, but what is personal data?

Personal data is anything that can defines you as a person. Name, address, current location, phone make, your usual breakfast, hair color, favorite pizza topping, etc etc etc. It is all of your features and personality and interests all balled up into a database record.

Companies collect this data in many different ways - keeping history of what sites you browse, social media posts and sign up forms among other ways. For instance, the gmail sign up page collects your:

  • Name
  • Phone Number
  • Date of Birth
  • Gender

Along with knowing your rough location based on ip address. If you use that account to sign into Google Chrome, it tracks the pages you view and ties all of those back to your account.

Okay, but why does that matter?

That's probably a great question... why should you care that Google knows you just visited a page about filleting fish?

Well, in most cases, you probably don't care. In most cases it sits on Google's servers and isn't touched. But it's not just Google doing these things, it is most websites, and that's where it can get worrisome.

A short, uncurated list of ways it can bite you:

  • Targeted advertising ¹
  • Data breaches (looking at you, Equifax)
  • Cyber crime

Those last two are the real killers - in the Equifax example, they collected incredibly sensitive private data without any knowledge or consent of the end user that got distributed after a breach. Very scary, and that's why there is a huge settlement.

Oh, I see now

Good, I guess. Keep it in mind as you're browsing the web, signing up for a band's fan page, or when crafting your latest social media post.

¹ This is what my employer, The Trade Desk, does. I understand the irony here.