12 May 2023

If I Don’t Use Social Media, Do I Need to Worry About Online Privacy?

If you’re serious about protecting your privacy online, chances are you eschew social media – or, at the very least, have it seriously locked down. But does this ensure you won’t have any online privacy issues?

In a word; no.

“For most people there’s a huge amount of information that can be gathered, even if your social media channels are private” explains Ben van der Merwe, a data journalist at Sky News. “It’s not just from social media – it could be court records or the voting roll. The amount of data that we’ve all created and can be accessed publicly is huge”.

Even if, like van der Merwe, you know a huge amount about data privacy and make a concerted effort to protect yourself and your personal information, you may be surprised by the amount of data publicly available.

“I’ve been very careful with my information, locked it down and tried to remove stuff from the web – and I still found loads of companies had access to my information. That should be particularly concerning if you haven’t taken that much care with your online presence”.

It’s also a concern if, for any reason, you are of public interest.

“Anyone can buy this information. Having that much information out there about you is potentially a bad thing in the hands of someone who doesn’t wish you well. I’d be scared if I was in a position where someone was intent on stalking me or harassing me. Abusive partners can also use this information. So if you’re someone well known and have a lot of people trying to access your information, that’s very worrying”.

On the flipside, being private can also cause you problems – we are not, it seems, set up for a world that respects online privacy.

“I was recently trying to raise my credit rating” explains van der Merwe, “I discovered one of the things that was suppressing it was that I was not publicly on the electoral register. I chose to be private specifically to protect that information and not make it sellable to marketers. I ended up having to make it public to increase my credit rating!”.

What’s the answer? For the moment, van der Merwe is not sure.

“If you invest in a serious, professional internet clean you might be able to get rid of most of your information – but for most people there’s a huge amount out there that can be gathered by anyone”.

Companies are, however, starting to take note. Privacy may yet emerge as the new commercial superpower – and it’s about time.