What is Consumer Privacy?

Coby McKinley Profile image

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Updated January 5, 2023

Learning how consumer privacy works can keep you informed about issues like online tracking and speech rights. After all, the consumer privacy discussion focuses on the rights of individuals to control their personal data and protect it from being collected, used, and shared without permission. Online communication allows powerful companies and government agencies to collect more data than ever before. So, stick around to learn what is consumer privacy so you can stay safe online.


  • Consumer privacy refers to the right of individuals to control their data and protect it from non-consensual use.
  • Companies collect consumer data through browser cookies, submission forms, and in-app permissions. They often sell this data or use it for targeted advertising.
  • Many regions have consumer privacy regulations, including California and countries within the EU.

For more information, read about service providers under the CCPA and what Title 2 net neutrality is.

Insider Tip

Consumer privacy advocates recommend that users read a website’s entire privacy policy before providing sign-up information like a name or email address.

Why is Consumer Privacy Important?

Consumer and privacy concerns often overlap as more commerce moves to the internet. Private-sector companies, financial services, and government agencies collect countless electronic records from consumer activity, so motoring their data privacy practices is critical. Consumer privacy issues typically deal with how large entities use customer records and their data security practices.

How Much Consumer Data do Companies Take?

Consumer data is made of identifying information, behavioral data, and general demographics. Companies use this data to refine sales pages, target ads, and other commercial purposes. Some companies with access to consumer data sell it to other agencies for research and marketing.

Companies collect customer information like email addresses, credit cards, IP addresses, phone numbers, and browsing history. Entities gain access to customer data through multiple avenues like tracking cookies, app location permissions, and submission forms.

Laws Covering Consumer Privacy Protection

American consumers do not have a unified Federal privacy law. Instead, the US has a Federal privacy framework made from multiple bills and regulations. For example, federal-level laws cover medical privacy, student privacy, and how insurance and financial institutions can use customer information.

General Data Protection Regulation Act (GDPR)

The EU and UK have a General Data Protection Regulation Act (GDPR). These strong consumer privacy laws outline how companies and government agencies treat consumer data. Companies must ask permission to store consumer data for specific purposes. Additionally, companies must invest in strong privacy measures and hire a data protection officer (DPO) to oversee GDPR compliance.


You do not have a legal expectation of privacy on a public social media account, so be thoughtful about what you share.

California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA)

The California Consumer Protection Act is a state-level consumer privacy regulation that sets new legal requirements for how companies collect and use customer data. Citizens have the right to know how a company collects data, what the data is used for, and how the data is shared. CCPA only applies to California citizens, but many companies extended CCPA-compliant policies nationwide.

STAT: A 2019 Pew Research Center survey showed that 79% of Americans are very or somewhat concerned about how companies use their personal data. (source)

What is Consumer Privacy FAQs

Does ad-blocking software protect my privacy?

Ad-blocking software and browser extensions can offer consumer privacy protection from a slew of data collection tools like tagging scripts, analytics, and tracking cookies. That said, only install ad-blockers from official sources because nefarious actors can hide malware and adware in their software.

How do you reduce privacy risks online?

Experts advise browsing the web with a VPN and blocking certain cookies with browser extensions. Additionally, users should read a website’s privacy policy before making an account. Lastly, investigate mobile app permission requests before trying a new application or service.

Can companies sell my data?

Yes, companies can sell collected user data for commercial and marketing purposes. Consumer data is extremely valuable, which is why free-to-use websites let you exchange some personal privacy in exchange for site access. Also called data brokering, selling consumer data is legal in most areas, but some modern consumer privacy laws limit this practice.
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