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Collection of Personal Information

What Is Collection of Personal Information

The collection of personal information is the process of obtaining personal data from individuals.

Personal information might be collected by businesses, government agencies, or other entities for purposes ranging from providing services and enhancing customer experience to verifying identities and complying with legal obligations.

Information collected can range from basic contact details like names and addresses to more sensitive data such as social security numbers, financial history, and health records.

It can be collected directly (for example, through online forms, subscription services, user registrations, and interactions with customer service) or indirectly (for example, via tracking technologies like cookies on websites or data from third-party sources).

Third-party definition 

Collection of personal information means obtaining personal information from any source, including the individual themselves and any third party. – Saguaro Resources

Direct vs Indirect Personal Information 

Direct information collection happens when data is gathered straight from individuals through explicit interactions or transactions. The individuals are usually aware that their information is being collected.

Direct information collection methods can include the following:

  • Forms and surveys. Individuals provide information through forms during sign-ups, registrations, or surveys.
  • Interviews and other interactions. Information collected during personal or telephone interviews, customer service interactions, and meetings.
  • Transactions. Data collected through transactions such as purchases, subscriptions, or any service usage where users provide their details.

Indirect information collection involves acquiring data without the direct involvement of the individual and often without their explicit knowledge at the time of collection.

Indirect information collection methods and include the following:

  • Tracking technologies. Use of cookies, pixel tags, and other similar technologies to track user behavior on websites and apps.
  • Public records and social media. Collecting information from public records or through monitoring social media activities.
  • Data brokers. Purchasing data from data brokers who compile information from multiple sources. 

Privacy: Direct vs Indirect Collection of Personal Information

Direct collection of personal information is better for privacy. 

There are three core reasons why that is the case:

  • Direct collection is more transparent as individuals actively provide their information.
  • It typically involves getting explicit consumer consent. 
  • The individual has control over the information they provide, reducing the risk of inaccurate or outdated information.

With indirect collection of personal information, on the other hand, individuals may not be aware that their data is being collected or how it is being used. 

Risks of Personal Information Collection 

The collection of personal information, whether direct or indirect, brings several risks to consumers. 

At the most basic level, personal information collection can make consumers feel like their privacy has been violated. This can happen when too much personal data is collected or when the data is used in ways that the individual did not expect or consent to, like profiling (which can impact consumers’ opportunities) or targeted advertising.

Also, even if an individual trusts an organization with their personal data, there is always a risk of data breaches. Many organizations, from small businesses to large corporations, have experienced data breaches that have exposed sensitive personal information. 

Depending on what information was exposed, it could lead to identity theft and increased scams or phishing attempts. 

How to Improve Privacy and Reduce the Risks Associated with Personal Data Collection

You can improve your privacy both with direct and indirect information collection. Here’s how. 

Direct information collection

  • Be informed. Always read the privacy policies and terms of service of websites, apps, and services before providing your personal information. Understand what data is being collected, how it will be used, and who it might be shared with.
  • Minimize data sharing. Only provide the necessary information that is required for a service. Question why certain data is being requested and how providing it benefits you, and don’t fill out optional fields in forms. 
  • Manage consent. Pay attention to consent forms and opt-in boxes. Uncheck pre-checked boxes if you do not want your data to be used for marketing or shared with third parties.
  • Use privacy settings. Adjust the privacy and security settings on platforms and devices to limit access to your data.

Indirect information collection

  • Block trackers. Use privacy-focused browser extensions or browser features to block tracking cookies and scripts that websites use to collect data about your browsing behavior.
  • Use secure browsers. Consider using privacy-focused browsers or configure your current browser for enhanced privacy by turning off third-party cookies and clearing your browsing history regularly.
  • Opt-out. Utilize opt-out mechanisms provided by advertising networks, data brokers, and consumer credit reporting agencies.