James Walker: Act now to stop businesses exploiting your data

Data breaches can have significant consequences
Data breaches can have significant consequences
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Once upon a time, the internet made our lives easier with a minimum of fuss. In the last year, however, we’ve discovered that businesses are harvesting our data, recording our internet searches, monitoring our interests and flogging it back to us. So what to do if you think your data has been mishandled? Here are some tips.

◆ Update your settings. From social media to shopping sites, go in to the settings/profile pages and change everything you can that will stop the sharing of your info.

◆ GDPaaarrrggghhhh! How annoying are those GDPR emails clogging up your inbox? Businesses and organisations have reacted to the new data protection rules and are desperate for you to say they can still market stuff to you. It’s a drag but take the time to go through them. Think of it as having a salesperson clear-out.

◆ Report bad practice. Reports have hit me of email service providers asking their users to opt out of targeted advertising – then expecting them to individually do this for hundreds of organisations. That’s unacceptable. Make a complaint and tell the business to opt you out of everything.

◆ Log-in liabilities. Remembering passwords is a real pain – as is typing in long email addresses and log in details. So when you get the option to log in using other websites so you don’t have to input all that info, it’s tempting. Watch out though, if you use Facebook or Google to log on to websites, you’re creating online links and allowing them to share data. Take the extra 30 seconds to log-in direct.

◆ Data breaches can have significant consequences. I’ve helped sort out complaints about private information left on trains, credit card details sold to fraudsters and information on people’s identity and location disclosed to violent former partners. Wherever we work, we have a responsibility to protect the data we hold on file. If you spot poor practice, report it.

◆ You’re entitled to ask a business to give you copies of the information held on file about you, either informally or through a “subject access” request. The Information Commissioner has a great guide on their website on how to do this. If you think a firm has misused your data, you can make a complaint to the Information Commission for free.

For too long, businesses have treated your data like it’s theirs to exploit. But the tide has turned – so seize control of your data back.

James Walker is the founder of online complaint-resolution service Resolver.co.uk