Data is any kind of information about people, it might be their place of residence, age, medical condition, political affiliations or how likely they are to buy a certain product.
When you register on a social media platform, you're usually required to tell the website how old you are and whether you're male or female.
It may seem like little information to start, but you soon begin leaving a trail of personal data behind, perhaps by liking your favourite football club's page on Facebook or telling your friends you are looking for a new apartment.
But why is that so valuable?
"Your age, your sex and your hobbies are important to companies that advertise," explains social media expert and business lawyer Felix Beilharz. These companies want to know who you are and what your interests are.
Facebook likes have become a reliable way of determining characteristics such as age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, political orientation, relationship status and even alcohol consumption.
All this information allows them to pick the right ads for different people, who, in turn, can sell more of their products.
Liking a football club on Facebook, for example, will help a company selling jerseys find out which users are interested in football. The company then pays money to show matching ads to these users, who are more likely to buy their product.
In some cases, you may be looking at clothes on a completely different website. But shortly afterwards, you may see an ad on Facebook for the exact same clothes. The reason for all this is the data trail you're leaving behind on many websites.
But experts warn that this information can be used to make discriminatory assessments of customers. Some people may be given a lower credit rating, offered more expensive flights or made to wait longer on a hotline if their data shows they are likely to accept that.
Users have grown increasingly wary of data collected about them in the wake of a scandal surrounding data analysis company Cambridge Analytica, which shed light on how data illegally obtained from 87 million Facebook users was used to create customised messages to sway voters in the 2016 US election. — dpa
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