What Data is Collected?
Because of the way the Internet was designed, every time you visit a website, some information about you is shared with the website. Much of this information is not what most people would consider very personal and includes things like what web browser you use or the operating system on your computer. However, even without you providing any more information, websites can also frequently tell your approximate geographic location or the specific search terms that you used to arrive at the site. Additionally, some websites and more commonly their advertisers can also tell some information about your browsing history including some of the sites you may have visited and your interaction with advertisement.
Along with data that is collected behind the scenes, we also actively share a great deal of information with websites by sharing pictures, posting status updates, or even just running a quick search on a particular term.
Privacy policies typically spell out the general nature of the data a site is collecting; however, they do not always use plain English to do so. Because of this, it is a safe assumption that anytime you provide any information to a website, or even just click on a link on a website, the website is saving that interaction somewhere.
What Do Sites Do with the Data They Collect?
Who Does the Site Share Your Data With?
Other Important Terms
How Are Privacy Policies Enforced
The Federal Trade Commission has assumed the role of holding sites accountable for the representations they make in their online privacy policies. The chief mechanism by which they do so is through Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which bars deceptive trade practices. Companies of all sizes and notoriety have been targets of enforcement action by the FTC and the civil penalties imposed have been significant in some egregious cases. Despite this, the FTC only brings a limited number of privacy-related enforcement actions a year and is limited in what they can do to foreign companies.
Where Do I Go From Here?
Along with paying attention to privacy policies, consumers and businesses should also be mindful of different websites’ and their owners’ general reputations for protecting privacy. Some technology companies take privacy far more seriously than their competitors do. Depending on the sensitivity of your information, it may be worth eschewing the free service for a paid service with a strong reputation of protecting their users’ privacy.