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The Consumer's Role in Protecting their Personal Information

Data, particularly Personally Identifiable Information (PII) or personal information, has become a highly valued asset in today's digital economy. While companies strive to protect this sensitive information, we, as consumers, also play a vital role in ensuring our information's safety. This article discusses the importance of PII, how companies safeguard it, and the proactive steps consumers can take to protect their data.

The Importance of Protecting Personal Information.

PII includes any information that can identify a specific individual (a.k.a. you), such as names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, IP addresses, and Social Security numbers. This data is essential for companies to provide personalized services and to conduct business. Often, this includes selling your personal information or sharing it with business partners. If companies sell your data, you can see the value in collecting it. Its value also makes it a prime target for cybercriminals. PII theft and data breaches at the companies you have entrusted your data to can lead to identity theft, financial fraud, an invasion of privacy, legal issues and cause substantial harm to consumers.

The Role of Companies in Data Protection

Companies bear a significant responsibility in protecting customer information or data. They use several strategies, including cybersecurity, encryption, secure connections, and data anonymization. In today's highly connected digital world, threat actors continue to breach companies' security protocols and steal your data.

Encryption transforms data into code that can only be read with a key, keeping it safe even if intercepted during transmission. Secure connections, like HTTPS, ensure data sent between your device and the company's server is encrypted. Data anonymization involves stripping data of identifying details, reducing the risk even if the data is compromised.

Understanding Personal Information

Understanding what personal information entails and how companies use it is crucial for consumers. Companies often collect PII, or personal information, to deliver personalized services, conduct transactions, and for marketing purposes. Use of your personal information can also include it being sold. Consumers should be aware of the data companies collect and how they use the information you give them. Use of your information is often detailed in the company's privacy policy.

Risks Associated with PII

If PII falls into the wrong hands, it can lead to severe consequences such as legal issues and identity theft, where criminals use your identity to commit fraud or other crimes. Other risks include credit card fraud, phishing scams, and even psychological stress due to your personal information being taken from you without your permission.

The Consequences of PII Theft

When PII, or personal information, is stolen, it can disrupt and cause harm to people. Victims may spend substantial time and resources rectifying the situation, rebuilding their identity, recovering lost money, repairing their credit history, and correcting any number of legal problems. All of this can take a toll on a person's emotional well-being.

Common Methods of PII Theft

Cybercriminals use various methods to steal PII, including data breaches, phishing, smishing, and malware attacks. In data breaches, threat actors or hackers exploit vulnerabilities in a company's security to access stored information. Phishing involves tricking individuals into giving up their information, usually through deceptive emails or websites. Malware, such as viruses or spyware, can be installed on your devices to steal information.

How Companies Protect Your Data

To protect your data, companies implement several security measures. These include secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption, secure file transfer protocol (SFTP) for data transfer, and firewalls to block unauthorized access. They also regularly update and patch their systems to address any security vulnerabilities.

The Consumer's Role in Data Protection

While companies have a duty to protect your data, consumers also have a significant role. Understanding a company's privacy policy and terms of service is vital. These documents outline what information or data the company collects, how they use it, and how they protect it. If a company's privacy practices do not meet your expectations, consider not doing business with the company.

Maintaining Control Over Your Personal Information

As a consumer, it's essential to maintain control over your personal information. Limit the information you share online and consider which companies you want to give your personal information to. Regularly check your account settings on websites and apps to ensure you only share necessary information. Remember, you also have the right to request a company to delete your data.

Practical Steps for Protecting Your PII

Protecting your personal information requires taking proactive measures. Using strong, unique passwords for each of your online accounts can prevent unauthorized access. Leveraging two-factor authentication (2FA) adds an extra layer of security, requiring not only your password but also a second factor, like a text message code or biometric data, to access your account.

Be wary of phishing attempts. Scammers often pose as legitimate companies or individuals to trick you into revealing your PII. Always verify the source before clicking on any links or providing your information.

Regularly monitoring your accounts can help detect any suspicious activities early. If you notice anything unusual, report it to the relevant company immediately.

Protecting your personal devices is another critical step. Keep your computer and phone's operating system, browser, and security software up to date. Enable automatic updates when available. Be cautious when using public Wi-Fi networks; avoid accessing sensitive accounts or conducting transactions on these networks.


In today's data-driven world, personal information has immense value. While companies are responsible for protecting the data you have given them, consumers must also take proactive steps to safeguard their information. By understanding what PII, or personal information is, its associated risks, and how to protect it, consumers can significantly reduce the risk of becoming victims of data theft.


Q: What is Personally Identifiable Information (PII)?

A: PII, or personally identifiable information, includes any information that can identify a specific individual. Examples include names, physical addresses, email addresses, Social Security numbers, and financial information. Essentially, this is information that identifies you.

Q: How do companies protect my data?

A: Companies use various strategies, including encryption, secure connections, data anonymization, firewalls, and regular software updates.

Q: What can I do to protect my data?

A: Consumers can protect their data by using strong, unique passwords, enabling two-factor authentication, being wary of phishing attempts, regularly monitoring their accounts, and protecting their personal devices.  Install software updates as they become available. Don't use free browser-based password managers, but do use password managers such as keepersecurity.com.

Consider using applications such as permissionslipcr.com, joindeleteme.com, and saymine.com to request data deletion from companies you have done business with. Freeze your credit reports and those of your minor children by visiting: https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/finance/how-to-freeze-credit

Q: What should I do if I suspect my data has been compromised?

A: If you suspect your data has been compromised, immediately report it to the relevant company. Change your secret questions, responses to those questions, and passwords, monitor your accounts for any suspicious activities, and consider using identity theft protection services.

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