Personal data in our era

The digital footprint of each of us leads to providers, analysts, scientists and merchants. In this longread, you will learn who collects your data, for what purposes and why know your privacy rights

«If you're not paying for it; you are the product»
«I’m gonna track your IP adress»

These phrases reflect a rather simple truth - in today's world, especially on the Internet, the main resource is not oil and gold, but data!

Think about it. Every day you share an enormous amount of data with the world: you listen to personalised playlists, like your friends on social networks, find out the weather in your hometown, ask the voice assistant to call a taxi. Your faces are recorded by security cameras on the street, in the underground and at Zoom conferences. Your shopping history is saved in the banking app. Your location and phone number are known to the nearest cell tower when you turn on your phone. Your laptop model is visible to every website you visit.

Evidently you leave your data everywhere you look. But have you considered who uses it, how and why?

In this longread, we'll talk about the relevance of "data" and highlight the basic issues that apply to each of us

Let's look at some of the purposes for which personal data is needed.
Execution of the contract

A simple example. You place an order on the website. You pay for the goods in the shopping cart, enter your name, address, mail. These details will be used to deliver the goods to you. For the same reason you give your passport details when you buy a train or plane ticket (there are also a number of obligations on the transporter's side which require data transfer, e.g. for combating terrorism).

When placing an order you do not hesitate to tick the box if you agree to receive information about promotions and discounts. From then on, the online retailer has your data and can use it for advertising, discounts, etc.

The situation becomes a little more complicated if the online shop states in its privacy policy that it can pass your data on to third parties such as advertising partners. This means that from now on your data might be included in the huge client base of a marketing company that uses it for targeted advertising.

Targeted advertising is advertising which targets an individual consumer based on data about him/her or his/her advertising group. Such advertising is much more effective than ordinary advertising as it is directed straight to the person who is likely to be interested in it. An advertisement for AiPods sent to an iPhone owner will be more effective than the same advertisement for a Samsung smartphone owner. An advertisement for cat food will be more effective if you know who has a cat at home and not a dog.
Data in large quantities is a valuable asset to businesses that can be used for analytics and building different models. Cookies can be used for analytics to improve service. Based on such data the site owner can, for example, see which pages are the most popular and how much time users spend on them. These findings can help the owner adjust financial models and product lines. Data analytics also helps businesses build profiles of their potential customers. Big data is also used for scientific and statistical purposes - artificial intelligence is taught to distinguish human speech or make diagnoses using such data.
Legal obligation
Legal obligation A lot of personal data is collected to comply with the law. For example, every employer is obliged to keep an employee's personnel file, his or her work record book, and to keep all documentation about him or her even after dismissal, because the tax authorities may need it. Some data must also be stored by mobile operators, such as calls records and call duration (also called metadata).

Illegal purposes
Data can also be sold on the darknet and used by fraudsters for blackmail and extortion. Every year, peculiar tops of online data leaks are created. In 2019, for example, attackers leaked 60 million records of Sberbank customers' banking data online. This year, some 48 million QR code records of Russians also ended up in the hands of fraudsters. Data leaks remain an important security threat not only to personal freedom, but also to government.

Is there any way of preventing your data from being "leaked"?
In a nutshell, no. Every person using the Internet leaves behind a "digital footprint" that cannot be completely erased. Almost every website uses cookies and other identifiers to remember the user. IP and MAC addresses, geolocation data, phone number information, call and message information are all accumulated in huge quantities and can be identified with some skill and used for one''s own purposes.

All this has created a trend towards privacy and confidentiality. Today, people are increasingly concerned about what data is collected about them and how to practice 'digital hygiene'. Developers, too, are trying to respect users' rights by improving their services. For example, new versions of iOS prohibit apps from collecting data about you without prior consent, asking for your permission to track actions or access your files or photos.
It is also possible to limit the movement of one's data online - there are many different applications and technologies for this.
Despite this, we cannot say that a culture of privacy has taken hold in our society. 123456 and qwerty are still the most popular passwords. It is clear that hacking into such accounts and gaining access to users' data is not difficult. There is a more general problem with people's digital awareness, even among young people. According to our survey, only 40% of respondents are aware of their privacy rights and basic principles of the Internet

For this reason, we believe that privacy education is the main mission of our project. People should know their rights and be able to protect them.