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Digital Essentials: Data collection & terms of use

How is your personal data collected?

Common ways that companies collect data about you: 

  • They directly ask for it 

Subscribing to a service, registering with a website or buying something online usually requires you to fill in a form. In this form the company will ask for a name and email address as a minimum. Customer surveys are often used for customer profiling. 

  • Through websites, cookies and web beacons 

Cookies and web beacons allow the company to track your browsing history to find out where you have been, what you have looked at, and even where you go after you have finished looking at their website. This is how they can target you with their ads and you will often an ad that follows you around the web. 

  • Company records and social media 

Companies can look at your previous purchase records and transaction history to see how you have interacted with online shops and support services. Social media is used as a primary source of data – whenever you log into a third-party app on Facebook, they can access any data you share publicly. 

  • Email tracking, apps, third-part trackers 

Companies can track whether you have opened an email, where it was opened and even what device you opened it from. Third-party trackers are primarily used to better understand how a company’s apps are used but it can also be used for targeted advertising and location tracking. 

  • Data companies 

Companies also buy and sell your data to other companies. There are companies whose only purpose is to collect, analyse and sell customer and business data to other companies.  

  • Artificial intelligence 

Researchers train their automated program by using your personal data. Whenever you upload a photo, video, text post and audio clip to sites like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram or Twitter, it is given to machine learning algorithms so they can learn and become smarter. 

Terms of use

The specific details of what data is being collected is generally concealed in the company’s terms-of-use agreement. It is important that you read and understand the terms-of-use agreements so you are aware of who owns your personal data and content and what the company can do with it. 

These agreements are often too long of read and complicated. If you don’t have the time or the motivation but you would like to be informed about your rights online, then visit Terms of Service; Didn’t Read (ToS;DR) – a website that provides bullet point summaries of terms of service agreements.


Goddard, W. (2019). How do big companies collect customer data? IT Chronicles.

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