The Internet…
Convenience, Interaction,
Inspiration and What Else?

Think about this:

That photo you took and uploaded with our GPS phone or camera can reveal the exact location of where it was taken (known as geo-tagging). Also, every time you join a social network, fill in a profile, blog, share a video, send a tweet, or post a comment, you create a digital footprint that is both permanent and potentially public. What you say and share give people an idea of what you are like as a person. Are you nasty or nice, compassionate or cruel?

At the same time, others may have published information about you. Friends (or ex-friends) may write about you or post photos of you and your family. Interest groups, clubs, and professional associations may reveal your full name, workplace or school and other details.

Online, what you say and what others say about you form your digital footprint. This information is often permanent and searchable, especially if the privacy settings of your social accounts are set to "public". In such an instance, a simple search could easily help someone piece together a composite profile of you. Potential employers do scout around for such online information to get a sense of whether a candidate is suitable. Predators may use the information to get close to you. Criminals may use the data to target you for scams or steal your identity to commit other crimes.

Organisations are also collecting information about you as you surf the web, download software, make purchases, register for a contest, or take part in a survey. They may track and collect information indicating your shopping preferences, habits and interests. These organisations may then use such data (which could identify you as an individual) for various other purposes such as customer profiling, marketing, business analytics or even to sell to other organisations and businesses as part of "database" sales.

As technology becomes increasingly sophisticated enabling the collection and processing of vast amount of personal data, questions arise as to how that data is being used, processed and protected by organisations that collect or possess them. A data protection regime is therefore necessary to address growing concerns of potential misuse of personal data and maintain trust between individuals and organisations that need to collect and use personal data for legitimate purposes.

Singapore recently passed our Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) to require that organisations balance their business or legal requirements to collect, use or disclose personal data, with the individual's need to protect their data. With the PDPA coming into force on 2 January 2013, organisations will have to safeguard personal data in their possession and you will be able to have more control over how your personal data is collected, used and disclosed. You will also have rights of access and correction of your personal data.

For more information on the PDPA, please visit www.pdpc.gov.sg.

General tips on how you can protect your personal data online

  • Use privacy controls - Learn about the privacy controls on your favourite websites and use them. Sites like Yahoo! Google+ and Facebook let you control the information you share with your friends, connections and with the world.
  • Connect only with people you know offline - When people try to add you as a connection, if you don't really know them, block them so they can't contact you again.
  • Be mindful about posting personal information - Posting personal information such as your full name, address, phone number, school, email address, or photos on portals and forums can identify you to strangers and put your safety at risk. Avoid listing your name and address on internet directories or job posting sites. Especially important, keep your account numbers, user names and passwords secret.
  • Think before you post - Once you put something online, it's impossible to take it back. Images, text and videos can be copied and reposted over and over without you knowing. So even if just your friends can see what you post, that content could end up anywhere on the Web (if they become your ex-friends or if their profiles are public). You will have a hard time trying to remove it.
  • Ask friends not to post photos of you or your family without your permission. At the same time, refrain from tagging friends in photos or videos online.
  • Keep an eye on your digital reputation - Regularly search for your name to see what comes up. If you find information that isn't true or that shouldn't be public, work with the person who posted it or the hosting website to take it down.
  • Read the privacy policy of websites that you visit, especially for transactions. Find out what data the website gathers about you, how it is used, shared and secured. If there is no privacy policy, take your business elsewhere!