Innovation & technology

Data Privacy – what it is and why you should care

This guide was developed by Voices of Youth with the help of a data privacy expert working with UNICEF. Our goal is to introduce you to the topic of “data privacy” and to help you keep your personal information safe – especially online.   

Know the Terms

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What is personal information? 

In this guide we will use “data,” “personal data” and “personal information” interchangeably to refer to is another word for personal information about who you are. Obvious pieces of personal information include your name, your email address, your phone number, your various ID numbers (drivers, passport, school, etc.), biometric information such as your fingerprints, iris scan, DNA. Data about you can also include the websites you visit, what music you like, what accounts you follow, your political views and what games you play... 

What is data privacy? 

When we talk about data privacy, we are talking about how to keep data about who you are, e.g., personal data or information, your data safe and how to prevent it from getting into the wrong hands. Sometimes it is important for us to share our data – for example when we apply for studies or for a job. But it is important that whoever we share our data with, keeps it safe and doesn’t just share it with other people, organizations, and companies without first telling us and getting our approval. If you practice good data privacy habit it also means you question why someone is asking for your data and you feel empowered to say “no”.  

Digging Deeper

Why is data about us collected? 

Data is collected for many reasons. For example, your doctor’s office will collect lots of data about – your medical history – to provide you with better care. Companies will often collect data about you to advertise better to you: they will see the kinds of things you browse or buy and show you ads for similar products. Social media companies track what kinds of content you engage with and serve you more similar content. If you want to take good care of your data, it is important that you understand why it is captured and used.

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Young advocates interacting online on different devices

Why should you care? 

It is not always possible to control all the ways in which your personal information may be collected, used or shared, particularly in the online world. However, when you have a choice on what to share and how, it is important that you make choices that you understand and feel comfortable with.  

Protecting your data is important for two key reasons: keeping your identity safe, and preventing people from selling your data or giving it away without your permission. 

Sometimes one piece of information may not identify you, but if someone has access to two, three or four different pieces of ‘data’ they may put the pieces together and ‘find’ or identify you. For instance, if you knew a person’s school, their head teacher, their age, that they were a competitive swimmer, you may be able to recognize them. 

Also, sometimes companies sell data (like email addresses) to other companies. Have you ever received an email from a company even though you didn’t sign up for their mailing list? That’s probably what happened and it’s one reason why you might want to be careful about who you share your information with.  

Actions You Can Take


    What are some things you can do to keep your data safe? 

    • Only share your name or other personal data with sites or apps you trust. Generally, trusted sites/apps should:    

      • Encrypt (scramble) the information you provide as it moves over the internet. You can recognize an encrypted site by the padlock icon top left in their URL

      • They have a privacy notice that you can click on and read in full. Usually you can find it in the footer of the home page. It should clearly describe what types of personal data the site will collect, what it will be used for, who it will be shared with, how the data will be protected and what rights and opportunity you have for contacting them.

      • They only ask you for information that is needed for you to use site features and for them to provide you with information or services and to administer the site. For example: if the site is not interactive or doesn’t require registration, you may not need to provide any personal data at all.

      • A site/app should always have a very good reason for asking for particularly private information such as payment information (your credit card number, etc.), gender, medical information or government issued ID, AND these reasons should benefit you! 

    • If you feel uncomfortable with the amount or types of information being asked or  the privacy notice leaves you confused, remember, this is your data, you do not have to provide it.  

    • Instead, look for a similar site/app that asks for less information and has a clearer privacy notice that promises to treat your data with appropriate respect and protection.  

    • This is crucial because what goes online can quickly go beyond your control and can be picked up by others for any possible use (or misuse)! 
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    Online privacy DOs and DON’Ts: 

    • Wherever possible, do not divulge who you are. Instead use a made-up nickname. 

    • Avoid providing more information than necessary: when signing up for a site, certain information may be mandatory, such as email and age group; other information may be optional, such as name, date of birth, hobbies/interests.  

    • Be clear as to whether you are ‘talking to’ a chatbot or a person. Avoid providing personal or sensitive information to a bot unless you fully understand and feel comfortable about how it will be used and shared. 

    • Remember that before giving data regarding your friends (and this includes photos and videos), you need to first tell them and get their consent, because this is their information, and they may not be happy having it shared, especially online. 

    • Site and App privacy settings: if they are available, use them for your benefit and protection! Sometimes they can seem a little confusing so take the time to read through them carefully. 

    • Shopping sites would love to be able to share your information with their partners and keep you up-to-date of their latest offerings, but do you want to? You may be able toIf you are able to you can 1) uncheck pre-checked boxes for offers and/or data sharing, 2) decline having them store your payment information. 
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