The internet has become such an intrinsic part of our day-to-day lives, that it’s easy to forget exactly what information you’ve shared with whom.

Sometimes, something we’ve shared can end up being embarrassing, or could potentially damage your reputation or career.

If you find yourself with a few spare minutes, use the opportunity to take stock of your online life – to reflect on how you can take control of what you share online, who has access to your information and data, and to understand some of the implications of our interactions with the internet.

Make good choices

Often, your interactions with the internet are almost happening subconsciously, but every time we’re doing something online we’re making a series of choices.

These choices could include:

  • Choosing whether or not to share something
  • Choosing to sign up to a new service
  • Choosing which program or film to watch
  • Choosing to accept a friend request
  • Choosing to follow another profile

Consent is specific permission for something to happen or an agreement to do something.

The choices that you make during your online interactions all involve consent.

In a real-world scenario, consent is generally something you consider fairly carefully and will have a clear memory of. Did I agree to this? Did I say this was okay? Is this something I wanted to happen?

In the online world, questions of consent seem to get a bit blurry. The reasons for this might include:

  • Fast paced – Situations can often happen much quicker in the online world
  • Better experience – You could have a better experience by clicking ‘Agree’
  • For the love of sharing – It can be fun to share things online and receive comments and likes from others
  • Everybody does it – It can seem like everyone is doing something online so what would the problem be. This isn’t always the case but a few active voices can sound like many more when you are online.
  • Culturally accepted – It may seem like this is just the way things are at the moment and there is no alternative
  • Without realising – We might even behave differently online and have different expectations without even realising

Consent in your online interactions is just as important as real-world scenarios.

  • If you would not give your consent in person then don’t give it online either.
  • Use sites and services that give you choices and take the time to explore these before agreeing.
  • Discuss with your friends and family what you can and can’t share about them and your expectations of them.

Controlling your data

Any interaction that you have online is creating data about you. This can include things such as what you do, where you go, what you’re interested in, who you know, who you’re related to, what you buy, and what you’re planning to do. This data is valuable to all sorts of companies and organisations because it can be analysed to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions.

The reason that social media platforms and a lot of online services don’t charge you to use them is because you are paying them by providing them with data. Data about you is so valuable that they will give you something for free so that you will give them your data in return.

It may not always be clear to you whom you are giving your data to, and what you have consented to allow them to do with it.

Here’s some tips on how to take control of your data:

  • Think carefully about the companies, sites and apps that you give your data to. Is it worth giving away your personal information to enter a competition or if you are buying something from a company that you are unlikely to buy from again?
  • Use privacy settings. Take the time to look at the privacy options of websites and consider not using a website if it won’t let you opt out of sharing your data.