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Digital dilemmas: Where does all the data go?

The internet is nothing but a huge web of interconnected computers on which data travels, but where exactly does the information go? Here’s a look at its intricate journey and surprising end destinations.

The advent of the internet has made our lives so much easier and convenient, but at the same time, it has also made many things a lot more complicated.

According to the latest figures, an estimated 5.3 billion people around the world, which accounts for 65.7% of the globe’s population, use the internet on a daily basis and enjoy the perks it offers but only very few of them are familiar with its inner workings.

For many, the internet continues to work in mysterious ways as there are a lot of aspects that they don’t know or understand.

Does that stop anyone from using the World Wide Web? Definitely not. One can still take advantage of the internet without learning all its ins and outs.

Moreover, it has become almost impossible to live in modern-day society without coming into contact with the virtual landscape in one way or another.

However, it does leave room for a plethora of digital dilemmas (and associated risks), such as this one: where does all the data that users share on the internet, knowingly or unknowingly, go?

With all the concerning statistics about data breaches going rampant and leading to an increasing number of data breach claims – which you can learn more about at – it’s certainly a smart thing to be aware of the journey your data goes on once it has been released into the online space.

Know your data

Maybe you’re thinking you don’t have anything to worry about because you rarely share data on the internet and when you do you know exactly who you share it with and where it ends up.

However, your data is not limited to the information you deliberately provide to certain companies and organizations via online channels.

Every time you use the internet, you leave a trail of data in your wake. When you post something on social media, send an email or leave a review; when you access a site or use an app; when you click on an ad or when you simply type something into your internet browser, you’re feeding the internet monster with data.

So, it’s not just about giving your address and other personal details to different businesses when creating accounts, making a purchase, filling in online surveys and so on.

Every single one of your online actions and interactions creates a digital footprint, both actively and passively. And chances are you have no idea where this information is going or how it’s being used.

Shedding light on data’s itinerary

You’re probably sharing a lot more data on the internet than you might have thought, but where does it go after you’ve made it available to other parties?

The simple answer is that your data, regardless of type, resides in data centres, be it colocation centres, enterprise data centres, edge data centres, micro data centres or the cloud. In reality, things are a bit more complicated than that.

You might assume that the companies and organizations that have collected information from you will keep it safe in their systems and this is where the story ends.

Well, in some cases that might be true, but more often than not that’s just the beginning of your data’s journey through the online maze. Your personal data usually travels a long and winding road with many stops along the way.

One of the first places where you can find your data is in your browser’s history. Search engines collect a lot of information related to your browsing habits, from the queries you’ve conducted and the sites you’ve accessed over time to certain resources from the pages you’ve visited such as images, videos, CSS, and so on.

Not all the data that is collected by search engines and online services can be linked back to users, but some of it is traceable and that can spell trouble if it falls into the wrong hands.

It’s also no secret that social media platforms like Facebook and e-commerce companies collect massive amounts of data from their users.

In theory, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that since these platforms ask users’ consent for data collection and processing and that helps them improve their services.

The problem arises when these platforms aren’t entirely transparent about their data collection and processing practices and misuse the data by using it as currency and sharing or selling it to third parties.

Facebook’s data privacy scandal is probably the most relevant example in this respect, bringing to the public’s attention the magnitude and dangers of data exploitation.

Government agencies are also on the list of organisations that hold vast quantities of personal information from their citizens.

While this is to be expected for safety reasons, it can also go in the exact opposite direction and pose a threat to people’s privacy and safety, especially if these agencies further your info to other organisations from other countries that don’t have the same data privacy standards in place or if a data breach occurs.

It’s equally important to have in mind the existence of public archives. Just because you delete things on the internet like blogs or social media accounts doesn’t necessarily mean they disappear completely.

It’s likely that traces of them still remain in a public archive somewhere, even decades after you deleted them.

Then there’s this little thing called the Dark Web where cybercriminals buy and sell all types of stolen data and use it to their advantage.

Here, the data changes hands so often that it’s virtually impossible to keep track of its journey and uses.

In conclusion, it’s rather difficult to tell where the data that you share today will be years down the line given the numerous stakeholders who are after it. It all depends on how good your cyber hygiene is and how you choose to use the internet.

Main image courtesy of Vecteezy

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