Where does your data online end up?

A man takes a photo using a smartphone. Smartphones and Internet data have become a basic need. PHOTO/Edgar R. Batte

What you need to know:

Data is prone to hacks from those seeking to profit off compromising one’s data security. Data ends up on computer servers where the website you are using is hosted. 

Many times people fill in forms online not knowing what this information might be used for or where it will end up.

Others go an extra mile of updating their digital platforms which include WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and SnapChat. These tend to show their current location or activities as they unfold by the day.

To others, it might take some time but they will follow suit to update their digital media platforms and ‘status’.  In this day and era and with technological advancement, it is quite hard to tell where this information / data or photos uploaded on the internet might end up.

In other scenarios, every Android phone has to be registered and if you do not register; you cannot use it.

Take another example, have you ever tried to search for something but before you go to that particular page you like, there is something either in the middle or at the sides that pops up requiring you to agree? If you ever do, do you know what happens to this data or where it might end up?

Ms Nina Kabanda, a business woman in Kampala, says a photo that she once shared on her social media platform ended up being used in print media without her consent.

 “I took a photo, shared it on Google but to my dismay, the same photo was used in one of the newspapers without my consent,” she recalls.

She says she never accepted her photo to be used without prior knowledge. “It is at such a point that I realised how conscious I must be whenever I try to upload my photos on the digital platforms,” Ms Kabanda notes.

Henceforth, Ms Kabanda hardly shares her life’s experience because she is not sure of where the data might end up.

Mr Remmegious SSewankambo, senior executive director Techjaja, says the question as to where our data ends up depends on what kind of data and the legislation in place to govern that data.

“For apps, these usually prompt you to opt in and accept them to collect your data to ‘optimise and offer a good experience’ which they store in their respective data centres in whatever jurisdictions they are found,” Mr Ssewankambo says.

On the other hand, some data is stored locally for security purposes besides the legislation.  A case in point is the local traffic over telecommunication networks. This is stored at local data centres managed by different telecom companies.

There is legislation in place to protect this data depending on how it is applied. In Uganda, there is the Data Protection & Privacy Act, 2019. But he refers to the common General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that has put stricter legislation in place to protect the data privacy of individuals within the EU from companies/organisations operating within its or outside the EU so long as they offer services to its citizens. As such, this applies to a wide range of companies & organisations including in Uganda.

GDPR ensures that data is collected under strict rules, protected and should not be misused or exploited. Failure to adhere to this amounts to legal complications.

However, Mr Ssewankambo is quick to note that both state and non-state actors can always find a way to bypass these legislations.

Therefore, companies should apply security layers to ensure that the collected data is secure both in transit and storage.

He adds that data shared online depends on personal preference given that the world is connected and some service features only work at the expense of one surrendering their privacy, by opting in.

“These online services always ask for your consent before they start collecting your data.  For privacy cautious individuals, limit what you share online because it is very hard to erase one’s digital footprint. However, many options promising you this are available,” he says.

Dangers associated with data

He further says hefty fines apply from state actors should one be found in breach or abuse of data security. This also comes with reputational damages on the side of companies/organisations.

In addition, data is like the new oil so it is prone to hacks from those seeking to profit off compromising one’s data security. These can hold the victim at ransom, use the compromised data for criminal activities or cripple critical infrastructure of a state in case its data is breached among other things.

The repercussions are different depending on the victim.

Sowed Mutumba, a senior software developer at The Medical Concierge Group (TMCG) and Rocket Health, says data ends up on computer servers where the website you are using is hosted. 

“This data is however accessible by different applications or websites through legitimate and illegitimate methods,” Mr Mutumba says.

Whereas the legal means including sharing with other websites such as social media sites, Illegal means will include hacking where the data is intercepted by people with bad intentions.

This basically means that data is shared from site to site and so it ends up all over the Internet.

Mr Mutumba explains that the data we share on line depends on the site.   “One must ensure that they are on the correct website by checking the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) also known as the web address.