The Internet is used today by billions of people around the world. With hundreds of millions of web pages and transactions on this global platform a lot of information is exchanged every day. According to the Journal du Net, in France alone, e-commerce exchanges in 2019 will reach more than 1.7 billion and this figure is constantly growing. But what kind of data can be found on the Internet?
There are three types of data on the Internet that are user-generated and can therefore be made available to businesses and organisations, whether public or private.
Non-personal data: these are those that do not require special protection because they are accessible to all. For example, professional e-mail, public telephone lines and addresses, etc…
Personal data: this is data that can identify an individual directly or indirectly. This can take the form of a video or a photo where the face is identifiable. It can also be an IP address, a mobile phone number, consumer habits, internet activities etc…
Sensitive data: Sensitive data is a subgroup of our personal data, data that characterizes us both morally and physically. According to the RGPD.FR website, here is an exhaustive list of this type of data:
- Racial or ethnic origin
- Political opinions, religious or philosophical convictions
- Union membership
- The processing of genetic data
- Biometric data for the purpose of uniquely identifying a natural person
- Health-related data
- Data concerning sex life
- A person’s sexual orientation.
This information is part of the individual’s private life and its use must be strictly authorized by the individual.
Ensuring data control
In Europe, e-security is taken very seriously, as is the right to protection of personal data. For this reason, on May 26, 2018 the European Union implemented the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).
Image taken from the CNIL website
This new European regulation is in line with the French Data Protection Act of 1978 and strengthens citizens’ control over the use that can be made of data concerning them.
This regulation must be applied by all public or private entities present in the European Union. It also applies to private and public companies that work with the personal data of European residents.
This new legal framework deals with a number of subjects concerning the rights of individuals, data security, the identification of files with data. The aim is to make data processors more responsible, to strengthen the regulation of data processing and to reinforce the rights of individuals with regard to certain so-called sensitive data. Users now have a right of access to these data, a right of rectification, a right to forget (erasure of data), and the right to limit the use of these data.
In the rest of the world, the legal context is adapting to keep up with the evolution of technologies and our societies (increased use of digital technology, development of online commerce, etc.). In the United States, for example, California, which is the state with the largest Tech companies (Google, Apple), has adopted a new law that came into force in early 2020. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) gives California residents more control over their data to companies that collect data in bulk.
Protecting yourself on a daily basis
Despite the many regulations in place, the best way to protect yourself on the web is to adopt a number of practices to limit your exposure. In order to protect our privacy and our sensitive data, we must be responsible and follow these few rules:
- On your mailbox, on your computer, on your mobile phone…it is important to change your password regularly. Use capital letters, numbers, special characters… this will increase the level of security.
- On social networks, it is important to be careful with the information you post. An address, a phone number, a personal e-mail can be seen by everyone…
- During your navigation you will encounter ‘cookies’, which are files deposited by our browser on your computer. They enable us to “trace” your path on the Internet (the pages you have consulted) and to retrieve navigational information. It is possible to block them with specific software to navigate without being traceable.
- You can also opt for search engines that are more respectful of the use of French users’ data, such as the French search engine QWANT.
- Check the protocols in the URLs especially when you make transactions. (Https means that your page is secure otherwise you are not protected).
- You can hide your IP address by using a VPN.
- Finally, update your software and firewall to make sure there are no vulnerabilities.
Putting these tips into practice will already have a significant impact on the protection of your data, but the Internet is evolving and becoming more complex at every moment, so it is important to remain very vigilant.