Your information on the Internet: What you need to know

Your information on the Internet: What you need to know

Information is the currency of the Internet. Following are some of the ways that your personal information gets online.

How your information gets on the Internet

Businesses, governments, and other organizations gather data when you:

  • Set up an online account

  • Make a purchase in an online store

  • Register for a contest

  • Take part in a survey

  • Download free software

  • Surf the web

Businesses use this information to help complete a transaction, remember your preferences, deliver personalized content or special offers, or save you time.

Transactions such as signing up for a service or buying something are linked to you—for example, by a shipping address or credit card number. But in most cases, businesses generally collect data that does not identify you by name. Sites track which web pages you visit and the clicks of your mouse, but not you personally.

Personal details about you may be also online because you may have added your own information in resumes, chats, pages on social sites like Facebook, or comments in discussion groups or on Twitter.

Others may have published information about you. Friends may write about you or post photos of you and your family. Records of government agencies are searchable—for example, photos of your house and its value, your birth certificate, and copies of your signature. Church groups, clubs, and professional associations may reveal your full name, workplace, and donation history.

Why should I care if there is information about me online?

The information that is available about you online is important for two reasons:

  • Companies and recruiters may use this information, your online reputation, to gauge your suitability for a job. To learn more, read Take charge of your online reputation.

  • Criminals may use data about you online to target you for phishing scams, steal your identity, and to commit other crimes. You can reduce your risk by taking steps to increase your privacy online.

Online information is searchable and often permanent. Unlike data stored on paper, however, powerful Internet search engines and data aggregation tools can make it easy to pull data together to build a full profile of you.

Once data is published online, it is effectively there forever and, depending on the privacy policy of the company holding the data, may ultimately be seen by anyone on the Internet. Sites may archive anything you have posted in addition to data they have collected from you. Friends (or ex-friends) may give your information out, or hackers and security lapses may expose it.