Information about me online

  • You have a right to privacy which means you should be able to keep your information safe and secure online
  • When you go online, you create lots of information about where you are and what you are doing
  • If organisations hold information about you, they have to keep it safe

When the internet offers so many opportunities, we don’t always think about the risks of being online any drawbacks. You might not have considered that every time you go online, the people and organisations that own the websites you use are collecting information about you. Your right to privacy doesn’t stop people collecting this information, and the law only protects you if someone uses that information in a way that you didn’t agree to, or to harm you.

If you know what kind of information is being collected about you, what happens to it and what you can do, you can make better decisions about what you do when you’re online and what information you share. You will also know what to do if someone uses your information in a way you don’t agree to, or which harms you.

Whenever you go online and use a website, information is being collected about you. The websites you visit, anything you download, any games you play. You may also make information available, for example if you do a quiz online or fill out a registration form to access a game or an app, you will be giving away information about yourself. If you use social media you are making all sorts of information about yourself available to the people who can see your account. When you go online you may also be providing information about where you live and where you are at that time. You might make a comment or posts a picture that shows this, even if you don’t mean to provide this information. If you post a picture of you in your school uniform, this can show people where you go to school.

Many organisations collect this sort of information about you so that they can show ads to you when you are online about products that you’re more likely to want to buy. Other organisations collect the information so that they can sell it on. There are also people and organisations who will try and collect this information so that they can cause trouble. For example, someone might try and find out personal information that you have used to set up a password on a social media account so that they can hack your social media account. They might also use this information to try and access other online accounts you have – even online banking.

There’s no way to stop organisations or individuals collecting information about you when you go online. You have to check what each website is collecting and how they will use the information. If you don’t want the website or the app to have the information, you may not be able to use the website or app.

Some information, like the websites you visit and what you do while you’re on those websites are collected through ‘cookies’. A cookie is a bit of text that sits on your computer. If you go back to a website, the cookie tells the website that you have been there before. Whenever you go on a website, you should be asked whether you agree to the organisation behind the website using cookies.

If you provide personal information, for example if you fill in a form, you should be told how the information will be used and you should have the option to say whether you agree to this.

You will have to check whether the organisation said what it would do with your information and whether you agreed to that or not. This is where terms and conditions come in. They are quite boring to read, but if you don’t you may not know what you have signed up to. If you don’t understand the terms and conditions, you can check with the organisation.

If someone has used your information in a way that you didn’t agree to, they may have broken laws about ‘data protection’. You should ask the organisation about what has happened, and if they don’t or won’t explain what has happened and put it right, you can make a complaint to the Information Commissioner.

The law – and even your right to privacy – doesn’t stop organisations collecting information about you when you’re online – it only protects you if the information is used in a way you haven’t agreed to or to harm you in some way. Some things you can do to keep yourself safe online include

  • Check how the website you are visiting will use your personal information
  • Check your settings on social media and other apps so that you protect your privacy. This includes checking things like location settings which allow people to work out where you are
  • Don’t post information online that people can use to find out more about you. Even a photo can give away information that you might not think about
  • If you use websites which have passwords, make sure your password is secure, don’t share it with other people and change it regularly
  • Be careful when you’re using public wifi which might not have such good security
  • Don’t reply to emails if you don’t know who they are from, and don’t give out personal information online

If someone uses your personal information to work out a password for an account you have, may be your social media or email, they can go into your account and cause all sorts of problems. If you think you have been hacked, you can report it to the website or app where you have the account – how you do this will depend on the website or app.

You can try and change the password on the account. If you use the same password on other accounts you should change all of them so the hacker can’t get into other accounts.

If someone is going into your accounts and finding out other information about you and controlling or threatening you, you can report this to the police as they may be breaking the law.