Regular press coverage of large-scale data security breaches and cyber hacks highlights just how vulnerable we can all be to our personal information being stolen. While this would seem to indicate that people should be more concerned than ever about their overall online data privacy, a recent poll suggests otherwise.

Recent data security breaches

Just two recent examples of hackers gaining unauthorised access to personal data involve the payment site PayPal and transport platform Uber. In December 2022, PayPal experienced a ‘credential stuffing’ attack that impacted around 35,000 users. The hackers used information that had previously been leaked, which PayPal users had then reused for their accounts (a warning not to recycle old passwords).

Also at the end of 2022, Uber reported that certain customer data had been compromised after a third party gained unauthorised access to one of the firm’s systems.

How this relates to data privacy

While hacks like these emphasise the dangers of our details being stolen by criminals, they also flag the wider issue of what happens to the data we share online. Organisations that collect and store data have to comply with data protection rules. However, there is a high level of legitimate data sharing, with organisations giving your data to their partners and other third parties.

These organisations are required to seek your consent before sharing data (often in the form of an annoying pop-up box that we check without reading the text). That said, there are also many data brokers out there which make money by collecting personal information you originally consented to share, and then selling it to marketers (and others) without your informed consent.

UK attitudes to data privacy

With the inherent risks of our data falling into malicious hands or being shared without our consent, it would be reasonable to think that people are becoming more cautious about what they share online. However, a 2022 survey by the Data and Marketing Association (with Acxiom and Foresight Factory), found that UK consumers are, in fact, less concerned about data privacy than they were a decade ago (69% vs 84%).

The survey also indicates increasing levels of satisfaction with the amount of data people share and comfort with the idea of their data being exchanged. This is in parallel to a rise in awareness of data protection rules. Overall, about half the people surveyed are willing to share their data, if they see a clear benefit in doing so.

How can we protect our data privacy?

The survey found that nearly one-third of people have little or no concern about their data privacy. So, the first thing to do is engage with the issue and recognise that selling data is big business. Practical steps that you can take to safeguard your online presence include requesting that your information be removed from the data broker sites, either by contacting them yourself or using a data removal service.

You should also check out the privacy settings pages of Google and any social media platforms you use, where you can limit how your data is used and shared.