Data privacy -- not always as 'private' as you think.

Data privacy -- not always as 'private' as you think.
When you shop online or do other business on the internet, you're at the mercy of what some privacy experts call the "Wild West" of data collection and security.

Once you click, buy, or sign up on websites, the safety of your information is out of your control.

Amidst growing concern about data privacy and security, the non-profit Online Trust Alliance (OTA) launched a series of town hall meetings Wednesday to help businesses, universities and government agencies keep your private information out of the wrong hands.

Growing areas of concern? Organized crime hacking rings, privacy policy loopholes, abuse by third-parties and mishandling of customer data by employees.

Newly released OTA research reveals more than 1,400 reported incidents of businesses either losing data or having their systems compromised last year. That's a 35 percent increase from 2011, nearly 243 million personal records exposed.

"Ninety-five percent to 97 percent of all data loss incidents could have been avoided, had the business adhered to best practices," said OTA Founder and Executive Director Craig Spiezle.

The OTA was joined by representatives of the FBI, the Secret Service, The Federal Trade Commission, the State Attorney General's Office and a number of corporate data security experts to share information many businesses do not know about the potentially gaping holes in their data protection process.

In conjunction with the Better Business Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce and local business industry partners, OTA plans to host complimentary webinars on Jan. 31.

The group says the events aim to provide a framework to help businesses protect their data and that of customers-through the release of the OTA's 2013 Data Protection & Breach Readiness Guide.