Consent in the Digital Age: Protecting Your Information


As part of Safer Internet Day 2022, Kent academics share their expertise and tips on keeping ourselves and each other safe in the digital sphere

It has been said that in 2020 the world moved online. Two years on and, although we are no longer confined to digital spaces, our digital presence is ever increasing. 

When you visit a website, what do you want the organisation running the website to know about you, and to share with other organisations? What do you feel comfortable having others – friends, family or others – share about you online? These are questions of consent. Digital consent is one of the most important considerations of using the Internet: what do you want to share about yourself online? 

We recognise that giving genuine and informed consent is increasingly difficult in a world where requests to ‘accept Terms and Conditions’ and ‘Privacy Policies’ are constantly showing up on our screens, so we asked the experts for tips to help us protect our information… 

Who can see it? 

If you have social media profiles, think about how they are set up: who can see them? Are they public, or private? If you want a public profile, consider what you post: what would future employers, friends or colleagues think?  What information can people take from your profile about you and use elsewhere? 

What do they want to know and why? 

Consider what types of information you are prepared to give to websites and services. Terms and conditions and privacy notices can be overwhelming and opaque, but it’s worth trying to think: what information might they be collecting about me? Why? What can they do with it? If you’re not comfortable with sharing the information, don’t. You can limit information collection by rejecting cookies (small pieces of code on websites that track your website usage), or go further by moving to more privacy preserving technologies: Duck Duck Go for web searches, Signal for instant messaging, or Brave, or a VPN to limit the amount of information you are providing about your activities online. 

Sharing about others – ask first! 

Do you have boundaries for online sharing? Do your friends and family know what they are? People who have information about you – photos, videos, stories – may feel very differently about how widely these should be shared. You won’t be able to find this out if you don’t talk about it, and it is harder to try and take down something that has already been shared online than to stop it being posted in the first place.

Online information – have you thought about… 

  • Your personal information can be used to infer details about your family members and friends which they might prefer not to share.
  • When posting an image or a video that you took on social media, how will the people (e.g., friends, others) shown in the image or video feel about it being online? Will they like being seen there? Does it present them in a way they will be unhappy with? 
  • Does sharing that photo/ quote/ video in the online world benefit you? For instance, if you don’t want people to recognise you in the real world, don’t use your photo as your profile image – even if the app asks for it! 
  • You don’t need to keep all your posts online forever. Consider deleting old posts especially those containing personal information, or switch on privacy options that help you do it. 
  • Do you need to let the whole word know all your opinions and deepest thoughts? When discussing things that are more personal, you could use private messages or discuss them in a closed group. Remember, others could always screenshot your posts, which means that they may be available even after you delete them.  
  • Many service providers will ask you to create a new account – instead of giving your personal information, you could create a secondary email account without giving extensive information for example. 

Worried you may have already over-shared online? Take back control! 

You can’t take back control if you don’t know where your personal information is; make a note of your online accounts and delete them when you don’t need them anymore. All online platforms have privacy controls for you to use. Study them and use them. You’ll also find that some platforms even provide the ability to do privacy or security ‘check-ups’ – do take this opportunity! You can choose to use more privacy-friendly alternative tools, using Brave, for instance, as your default web browser. 

Want to know more about safe digital sharing? How to share with consent and be mindful of future use, what to do if you’re a victim of revengeporn and more; check out our blogpost on Consent in the Digital Age: Sharing Images and Media. [ADD LINK]

With contributions from: Sarah Turner, PhD Researcher in Cyber Security, School of Computing; Dr Virginia Franqueira, Lecturer in Cyber Security, School of Computing; Dr Paraskevi Triantafyllopoulou, Lecturer in Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, Tizard centre; Dr Gareth Mott, Lecturer in Security and Intelligence, School of Politics and International Relations; Dr Mu Yang, Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing Analytics, Kent Business School; Professor Shujun Li, Professor of Cyber Security, School of Computing; Dr Jason Nurse, Senior Lecturer in Cyber Security, School of Computing 

Written by Filipa Paes, third year student, 28.01.22

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