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What are cookies?
Cookies are small files used by websites to monitor and remember certain information about us. This information includes general information like what we have stored in our e-commerce shopping carts as well as personal details like names and birth dates, our login details, and locations. It is a common occurrence for people on social media to remark on how they have searched a product on Google and then saw the same product being advertised to them on Instagram straight after. The cookies allow companies the convenience of following you around the internet and easily keeping up with consumer demands.
According to Recode, cookie policies are a symptom of an emerging commodity known as personal data. Every time you use online services such as internet search, email, social media, messenger apps, and cloud storage you pay for them using your personal information and through advertising companies convert your data into money. We are inundated by ads that follow us around the internet because of third-party cookies placed by advertisers to see what we are interested in. Simply put, every time we interact with companies online, they are recording our personal information and storing it for their business purposes which is sometimes in the form of tailor-made ads to entice us to buy the company’s products.
The sensitivity surrounding personal data cannot be understated. In a world where our personal information is becoming a social commodity – it is imperative to understand what exactly personal data is, how companies use it and how one can protect themselves from the exploitation of this resource.
What is personal data?
Personal data refers to our information as the site user. This can be biographical information such as age, race, marital status or religion, education, financial, location or medical information – it even extends to personal views.
When you log in to a bursary services website (i.e. online application) such as Career Wise, there is certain information that you share with the website in order to have a user-friendly experience that points you directly to the bursary that might be best suited for you. Without your personal information, Career Wise cannot assist you adequately in your search and the interaction would prove futile for both parties. Sharing personal information on the internet is sometimes necessary – but it is important to monitor where and how we share it.
A data breach occurs when confidential, sensitive, and protected information is exposed to an unauthorised person, without permission. Most times, data breaches occur due to technology and user behaviour.
In the past 5 years, the country has experienced some notable data breaches and leaks. In 2016 there was a security flaw in eThekwini Municipality’s eServices website which allowed any web browser to view the municipal account information and personal records of 98, 000 residents of the municipality. The personal records included names, birth dates, genders, ID numbers, passwords, phone numbers, physical addresses, and utility bills. In addition to this, in 2018 there was a Facebook data breach that saw close to 60 000 South Africans’ data leak in the Cambridge Analytica saga. Another noteworthy data breach happened in 2020 when the personal data of 24 million South Africans and over 700 000 businesses was breached and leaked onto several public websites.
It goes without saying that we need to carefully consider sharing information that can be used to distinguish and trace our identity online. However, it is sometimes necessary and the only way to move forward is to understand what companies can and can’t do with the personal information available on these websites.
So, before you allow cookies to store your ID number, date of birth, and location on another online platform – make sure you have familiarized yourself with that website’s privacy policies.