Companies are legally obliged to protect your data and privacy, right?

Read the small print that comes with the products and services you subscribe to, and you may just find yourself in for a shock.

Take the PlayStation, for example. According to Sony’s privacy policy, Sony may share any non-personal data and behavioral statistics with a third party. Similarly, Belkin, which sells power plugs and other electrical peripherals, collates information about its users. And all this is set to be part of a continuing trend.

But is this something to be concerned about?

According to industry experts, the new generation of Internet-networked devices has completely overhauled how companies track and use customer data. While thinly guised claims are issued that the information is anonymous or aggregated, the reality is that the majority of consumers do not have a clue what this actually means for them and are unaware of what is happening to their personal information and who is privy to it.

A fundamental issue is that there is no widely accepted definition of what is, and is not, "personally identifiable" data. As such, it is left to the corporates to form this definition for themselves. Of course, this leaves the law wide open to abuse and creative data manipulation.

There is also a major question mark over whether aggregation practices should be permitted at all. If data and information from several different devices are combined, you may suddenly find yourself at the mercy of advertisers and marketers who use aggregate information to re-identify and, subsequently target, users. Although this practice is apparently forbidden, the recent case involving Vizio TV proved that it is very much active.

According to U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which fined Vizio $2.2 million, Vizio collected the viewing histories of US viewers and then provided this information together with the IP addresses of customers to data aggregation firms who were subsequently able to match the IP address to the viewing behavior.

The lesson? If you value your privacy, be careful what you sign up for. If there’s a chance information collected via the device or service you’re using can be traced back to you as a user, be it in isolation or in combination with other data sources, you may wish to consider holding off on agreeing to that small print.