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We've lost control of our personal data online, survey says

Internet Security

If you were asked to write down all of the places online that have your personal information, could you do it?

Between signing up for a free demo of an app here, or getting access to a flash-in-the-pan social network there, chances are it would be nearly impossible to track the whereabouts of all that information down.

According to a recent survey, you wouldn’t be alone in having a tough time. Cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Labs asked 7,000 Europeans about their personal security online, and found that 64 per cent of people did not know all the places where their personal data was stored on the web. Somewhat more concerningly, 39 per cent of parents said they don’t know what information about their children is shared online.

With the advent of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union, many companies operating in Europe and globally have elected for more disclosure when they collect your personal information, or leave cookies on your computer so a site knows you’ve been there previously.

MORE ON CYBERSECURITY: Apple fixes bug that lets hackers shut down your device

But as GDPR was only implemented in 2018, there is years worth of information collection that has already transpired. Users can leave a digital footprint everywhere they go on the web, leaving information like your IP address, your approximate location, and information about the computer you’re using wherever you go. To see what’s exposed on your computer, you can check out the Webkay website, which will highlight the information accessible on your device.

And those are just places that you’ve willingly gone to. In the era of data breaches, your information could be in places online that you wouldn’t even know about.

“As our world becomes increasingly connected through the internet of things, there are more reasons for Canadians to learn how to protect themselves and their data,” said Laurie Pezzente, Chief Security Officer & Senior Vice-President of Global Cyber Security, RBC, in a press release.

What to do about it

As it turns out, despite the fact that the report showed people were concerned about what happened to their personal data online, not everyone was taking a proactive approach to protect it. Twenty per cent of respondents weren’t bothering to password protect their home wireless networks, while 31 per cent said they had never updated the security options on their Wifi.

If you’re looking to clean up your digital footprint, you can look into sites that can audit your appearances online. You may also want to take steps to manually review your digital presence, using something like this checklist to review where you show up on the web.

But ultimately, everyone is tracked online — it’s how websites save your preferences or information for future visits, or improve their products. If you really want to minimize the digital footprint you leave, look into browser extensions or VPN services, like the ones laid out in this Gizmodo article, to find more solutions to prevent tracking while you’re connected to the internet.

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