What kind of information is being collected about me online?
Revised: January 2020
When you are online, nothing is truly private. All you have to do is visit a website or use your smart phone and information about you is collected—information such as:
- songs or plug-ins you’ve downloaded
- your computer or phone’s technical configurations
- addresses of previous sites you’ve visited
- your email address
- your location on your phone
On this page
How is my information being collected?
Whether you’re playing games on the Internet, or using apps on your smartphone, it’s easy to forget that others are collecting your personal information. Remember this every time you:
- create a new social media account to connect with others
- shop online
- take an online personality test or I.Q. quiz
- fill out an online marketing survey that promises points for participating
- register to download programs, games or plug-ins
- visit a mall with your phone’s Bluetooth or location settings turned on
- use an app on your phone
Smartphones, tablets and personal computers
Websites collect personal information by making a record of your computer’s ID and your Internet Protocol (IP) address. These are unique to your computer and can be traced back to you. Websites also collect information by placing cookies – small files of text that can collect and store information – on the hard drive of the computer you are using. The cookies collect and store information such as:
- how many times you visit the site and which pages you visit
- your preferences, such as preferred language, font size and accessibility services
- your user name and password
- items in your shopping cart
- your location
This information can be used to send you targeted ads and monitor your activities online. Check out our advice on cookies for more information.
Smart phones and tablets have many identifiers built into them that allow the manufacturer, your mobile service provider and Wi-Fi providers to collect information about you.
As well, apps that you install can identify you to app developers, advertisers and data brokers. If you allow your apps to use GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth options, a lot of information about your location and your activities can be collected.
For example, if you download the app for your favourite store, and you have Wi-Fi or Bluetooth turned on, the store may track your exact location in the store and you could receive an ad for items near you that are on sale. See our advice on protecting personal information on mobile devices for more information.
Spam includes email, instant messages and messages you receive through social media. Canada's anti-spam legislation protects Canadians from the misuse of digital technology, including spam and other electronic threats.
Spam is often sent for commercial purposes. However, some spam can be malicious and may hide computer viruses and other malicious software (malware). See our advice, be diligent when dealing with spam for more information.
How is my information being used?
Once information about you has been collected, it can be used, shared – and possibly abused – in countless different ways. Here are just a few:
- It can be used to tailor electronic ads specifically to your habits and interests. For more information on this, check out our advice on behavioural advertising
- Depending on your privacy settings, friends of friends of friends may have access to your online profiles and can find out what you are doing every day
- When you set your settings to “public,” you enable everyone to see the personal information you post
- They may use this in ways you’re not comfortable with, so it’s a good idea to limit who you share content with
- A hacker or other bad actor could gain access to your personal information, including your bank account or other financial information. See our advice on identity theft
- A company may be able to track you when you are shopping in a store and use your information in ways you may not like
What can I do about it?
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do about it! Here are some tips on how you can protect your personal information:
- Use a different password for each website, account, and device that you use. Always choose strong passwords. See our tips for creating and managing your passwords for more information
- Before you sign up for an online service or download an app, learn about what personal information is collected and the privacy controls offered. If you’re not comfortable with how a service handles personal information, don’t sign up for it
- Make sure that you are dealing with a real company before you give out your email address or other personal information
- Look for private browsing options and consider adding content blockers that prevent your browsing information from being shared
- Ask your parent or guardian for help doing this if you need it. See our tips for using privacy settings for more advice
- Create a separate email account to use for online activities, such as when you sign up for social media, online shopping and similar activities. That way you can change this email if you start receiving a lot of spam
- Reply only to messages from trusted senders, because responding to spam only helps it thrive
- Don’t click on website links contained in spam messages. By replying, you are confirming that your email address is live and in use
- You also may be exposing yourself to malicious software
- Always insist on secure, encrypted Web connections to conduct any sensitive transactions, such as online shopping or banking
- While not foolproof, the lock icon, HTTPS protocol or green highlighting in the address bar are signs the site is likely secure
- Install and use anti-spam, firewall, anti-virus and other privacy and security enhancing software, and keep it up to date
- Again, if you’re not sure how to do this, ask your parent or guardian for help!
Assume everything you post online is completely public and limit the amount of information you share.
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