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Online Personal Information 

What Is Online Personal Information?

Online personal information is any data about an individual that is available on the internet. This information can range from publicly accessible details to more sensitive data. 

It consists of various types of information, like basic identifiers (name, birth date, email address, etc.), social media content, professional information, and so on. 

Although the availability of personal information online can have benefits, such as facilitating social connections and professional networking, it also raises privacy concerns. Depending on who accesses it, online personal information can be used for identity theft, stalking, social engineering attacks, doxxing, and other crimes. 

Third-party definition 

There are some forms of online data which may count as personal data, depending on the context.

Examples of such online identifiers include:

  • IP address
  • Pixel tag
  • Cookie ID
  • Online usage data

Privacy Policies

Types of Online Personal Information

Online personal information can include the following: 

  • Basic identifiers. Name, address, phone number, email address, and birth date. These are often used in public profiles on social media and professional networking sites.
  • Social media content. Posts, photos, videos, comments, and friend lists shared on social media platforms. This content can reveal personal interests, hobbies, relationships, and lifestyle choices.
  • Professional information. Employment history, educational background, skills, and professional accomplishments, typically found on LinkedIn or personal websites.
  • Biographical data. More detailed personal history, including family information, educational background, work history, and possibly past residences.
  • Financial information. Details about income, credit score, purchases, or other financial data. While this is usually private, it can sometimes be exposed through data breaches or online transactions.
  • Health information. Medical history or health conditions, which can be particularly sensitive. This information should be carefully guarded but can sometimes be inferred from fitness apps, health forums, or insurance websites.
  • Location data. Information on a person’s current or past locations, often gathered through social media check-ins, geotagged photos, or location tracking features in apps.
  • Behavioral Data. Online browsing habits, search history, and interactions with websites and apps. This type of information is often used for targeted advertising.

This kind of information, especially when combined, can create a detailed profile about an individual. 

Online Personal Information Risks

Online personal information can be misused in several ways. 

One of the biggest risks of online personal information is identity theft. Depending on the amount and detail of personal information available on the internet, bad actors can use this data to assume someone else’s identity. 

Harassment, cyberstalking, doxxing, stalking, and similar crimes are also fuelled by online personal information. 

Cybercriminals often use personal information in targeted phishing attacks. By knowing more about you, they can craft convincing emails or messages that might trick you into revealing more sensitive data or installing malware.

In the professional realm, the exposure of personal information can lead to reputational damage. For example, personal opinions or activities shared on social media can be taken out of context or viewed unfavorably, potentially impacting your employment or professional relationships.

Once personal information is online, it’s challenging to control how it’s used or who accesses it. Even if initially shared in a trusted environment, data breaches can expose information to a wider audience, including cybercriminals.

Online Personal Information Sources

Finding someone else’s online personal information is remarkably easy. 

Common sources of online personal information include the following:

  • Social media platforms. Websites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram often contain personal details such as names, photos, employment information, education history, and sometimes even location data.
  • Search engines. A simple Google search can reveal articles, news reports, blog entries, forum posts, and other mentions of a person on the web. Finding information about you becomes even easier if you use the same username across different online accounts.  
  • Public records. Public records like court records, marriage and divorce records, property ownership, and voter registration data can reveal a lot of personal data about someone. 
  • Professional websites. Personal websites, portfolios, or company websites often contain professional information about individuals.
  • Data broker websites. Websites like Spokeo, Whitepages, and Intelius aggregate public records and other sources of personal information. They can provide comprehensive personal profiles. 
  • Online directories and Alumni associations. These can provide contact information, especially for professional or academic connections.
  • Public forums and discussion boards. Participation in forums and discussion boards might reveal personal interests, opinions, and sometimes personal details depending on what the individual shares.
  • E-commerce sites. While they generally don’t make personal data public, user reviews or seller profiles on sites like Amazon or eBay can contain some personal information.

Online Personal Information Privacy

Improving online privacy starts with understanding where your personal information is online right now. 

Regularly search your name on your preferred search engine to see what information is publicly accessible about you. 

Request the removal of any unwanted or sensitive information from websites and opt out of data brokers. Data brokers collect personal information about you from various sources, compile it into profiles, and share or sell these profiles to anyone who wants them. 

Something to keep in mind is that data broker opt-outs need to be continuous. The reason why is that data brokers relist people as soon as they find more data about them. Alternatively, you can subscribe to data broker removal services like DeleteMe

Don’t stop at third-party sites and data brokers. Scrutinize your privacy settings on social media platforms, limiting who can see your posts, profile information, and friends list. 

Be mindful of what you share publicly and be selective about what personal information you provide on websites, especially in profiles, forums, or e-commerce sites.