Published on May 22

What is personal data ?

Personal data refers to information that can be traced back to a person, also called a data subject. Learn the different nuances of personal data and how to protect your own.

What is personal data ?

Understanding Personal Data: Impact, Risks, and Safeguards

In the digital age, personal data has become a valuable currency, shaping the way we interact, transact, and navigate the online and offline worlds. From social media platforms and e-commerce websites to healthcare providers and financial institutions, a myriad of entities collects, processes, and stores personal data. Because it impacts everyone, it’s important that everyone understands the concept of personal data, its various forms, and the profound impact it can have on individuals, as well as strategies to mitigate risks and safeguard privacy.

What is personal data ?

According to the GDPR, personal data is any information that relates to an identified or identifiable living individual. Different pieces of information, which collected together can lead to the identification of a particular person, also constitute personal data.

Personal data includes, but is not limited to:

  • a name and surname;
  • a home address;
  • an email address such as name.surname@company.com;
  • an identification card number;
  • location data (for example the location data function on a mobile phone);
  • an Internet Protocol (IP) address;
  • a cookie ID;
  • the advertising identifier of your phone;
  • data held by a hospital or doctor, which could be a symbol that uniquely identifies a person.

In addition to general personal data, special categories of personal data also exist. They are known as sensitive personal data and are subject to a higher level of protection.

Sensitive personal data includes, but is not limited to:

  • genetic, biometric and health data;
  • racial and ethnic origin;
  • political opinions;
  • religious or ideological convictions;
  • trade union membership and others.

Data not considered Personal Data:

  • a company registration number;
  • an email address such as info@company.com;
  • anonymized data.


The Digital Footprint: How Personal Data is Generated

In the interconnected world of smartphones, smart devices, and online platforms, individuals constantly generate a digital footprint. Every click, swipe, purchase, and interaction contribute to the vast pool of personal data. While this data can enhance user experiences, it also raises concerns about privacy, security, and the potential for misuse.

Social Media and Online Presence:

Social media platforms thrive on user-generated content, collecting a treasure trove of personal data. This includes not only the information users willingly share but also the patterns and preferences inferred from their interactions.

E-commerce Transactions:

Online shopping involves the exchange of personal and financial data. From shipping addresses to credit card details, each transaction leaves a digital trail.

Healthcare Records:

Electronic health records digitize sensitive medical information, streamlining healthcare but also necessitating robust security measures to protect patient privacy.

Smart Devices and IoT:

Smartphones, smartwatches, and IoT devices constantly collect and transmit data, creating a comprehensive profile of users' daily lives.

Location Tracking:

GPS-enabled devices and location-based services track individuals' movements, providing a detailed map of their activities.


Now comes the big question: who owns and who uses your data?

As you can see from the list above, there are a lot of companies out there that have our personal data. The average Internet user has shared its personal data with over 700 companies. That’s a lot. And those companies, in turn, have shared it with thousands of other data partners. Apart from the entities you interact with daily, there are also specialised companies, called Data Brokers, buying, and selling information.

As your data trail keeps growing every day, we need ways to keep it under control. Againstdata.com was built to tackle exactly this problem. The app helps users discover how many companies have their personal data, who those companies are, and ask for deletion with just one click.

Users can choose which companies get to keep and which companies must delete their data. A small digital data trail translates into a smaller risk for that data to be leaked.


The Impact of Personal Data misuse on Individuals

When everything works smoothly, you get to enjoy a free internet with access to a lot of useful services for free. However, "free" comes with a trade-off: you pay with your data and are get served personalized ads in return. This is, basically, the business model of the internet.

Here lies the deeper issue. Due to the lack of regulation and the vast scope of the industry, the system often fails to function properly. As a result, users frequently experience negative consequences. Here’s a list of the most common ones.

Privacy Concerns:

The collection and processing of personal data raise significant privacy concerns. Individuals may feel exposed and vulnerable as their lives become increasingly transparent to entities that gather and analyse their personal information.

Identity Theft and Fraud:

The improper handling of personal data can lead to identity theft and financial fraud. Stolen credentials, such as Social Security numbers or credit card details, empower criminals to commit various forms of fraud.

Targeted Advertising and Profiling:

Companies leverage personal data to create targeted advertising campaigns. While this can result in more relevant content, it also raises ethical questions about the extent to which individuals are manipulated based on their preferences and behaviours.

Discrimination and Bias:

The use of personal data in decision-making processes, such as hiring, lending, or insurance underwriting, can inadvertently perpetuate biases and discrimination. Algorithms may rely on historical data that reflects societal inequalities.

Reputational Damage:

Data breaches and leaks can expose sensitive information, leading to reputational damage for individuals. The disclosure of personal details, especially those of a private or embarrassing nature, can have lastingconsequences.

Surveillance and Government Intrusion:

Government surveillance programs and the mass collection of personal data have raised concerns about civil liberties and the potential for abuse of power. Individuals may feel that their every move is scrutinized, eroding trust in institutions.

This list reflects just a small part of what could happen in the world of personal data.


There is hope!

Given the ubiquity of personal data collection, individuals must be proactive in safeguarding their privacy. Employing a combination of awareness, technological tools, and legal frameworks can help mitigate risks and protect personal information.

1. Learn about personal data:

In a world where personal data is everywhere, understanding the phenomenon helps you understand how your online actions affect your privacy. Awareness goes beyond just knowing about personal data; it also means understanding the risks of sharing data. Being informed and aware helps you set the right privacy settings, use cybersecurity best practices, and support strong data protection.

2. Actively manage privacy settings:

Privacy settings let you control who sees your information online. They're important because they help protect you from unauthorised access to your personal data.

By actively managing these settings, you can tailor your online experience to your preferences and reduce the risk of data exposure. Regularly updating your privacy settings helps you stay in control of your online identity and keeps your information safe.

3. Create strong passwords and use two-factor authentication:

A strong password helps protect your information from unauthorised players. It should include a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

Two-factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds extra security by requiring multiple forms of identification.

This makes it harder for hackers to access your accounts, even if they know your password. Using strong passwords and advanced authentication methods is key to keeping your personal data safe online.

4. Use Privacy-Centric Technologies:

Embracing technologies that prioritise user privacy, such as privacy-focused browsers, search engines, and communication platforms, can reduce the digital footprint.

againstdata.com shows you how many companies hold your data, who those companies are, and give you the opportunity to request the deletion of the personal data they store about you or unsubscribe from newsletters that you don’t want to be a part of.

Taking control of your digital footprint and protecting your personal data is becoming crucial. You can start your privacy journey on againstdata.com

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