Personal data is often compared to oil—it powers today’s most profitable corporations, just like fossil fuels energized those of the past. But the consumers it’s extracted from often know little about how much of their information is collected, who gets to look at it, and what it’s worth. Every day, hundreds of companies you may not even know exist gather facts about you, some more intimate than others. That information may then flow to academic researchers, hackers, law enforcement, and foreign nations—as well as plenty of companies trying to sell you stuff based on what you do on your devices in any given day.
Due to this, more often than not, consumers are deceived into thinking that by using a free service, it is simply that- free, unknowingly aware of the true cost. For example, a few years ago, Google rolled out a new technology called Google Home, an assistant that can schedule appointments for you, customize suggestions in Google Maps based on recent travels or locations, and can even suggest potential endings to your sentences as you type. Which in the end, would not work as well without access to their users’ data. Similarly, millions of other popular companies do the same thing like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, American Express and many, many more.
What They Know:
By buying or licensing data or scraping public records, third-party data companies can assemble thousands of attributes each for billions of people. For decades, companies could buy up lists of magazine subscribers to build targeted advertising audiences. These days, if you use a smartphone or a credit card, it’s not difficult for a company to determine if you’ve just gone through a break-up, if you’re pregnant, trying to lose weight, whether you’re an extrovert, what type of medicine you take, where you’ve been, and even just how you swipe and tap on your smartphone. All that information can be used to create profiles of you—think of them as virtual, possibly slightly flawed versions of you—that can be used to target you with ads, classify the riskiness of your lifestyle, or help determine your eligibility for a job. In each of these scenarios, the user received something in return for allowing a corporation to monetize their data.
Who Gets My Personal Data?
Doxing, the practice of publicly releasing someone’s personal information without their consent, is often made possible because of data brokers. While you can delete your Facebook account relatively easily, getting these firms to remove your information is time-consuming, complicated, and sometimes impossible. In fact, the process is so burdensome that you can pay a service to do it on your behalf. The good news is, the information
you share online does contribute to the global store of useful knowledge. Researchers from several academic disciplines study social media posts and other user-generated data to learn more about humanity.
How to Protect Yourself:
In order to protect yourself from being targeted, you should consider exploring privacy centered alternatives. For example:
· Instead of Google, use DuckDuckGo.
· Instead of Chrome use Brave Browser.
· Instead of using Windows as your operating system, explore Linux.
By being proactive and searching for privacy geared solutions, you will come across many alternatives. Some of the services you find will not be free, however, you must ask yourself how much you value your privacy and determine if the price is worth it. Furthermore, be sure to read all the fine print you accept when registering for online services. We all tend to click “agree” as reading the details is a hassle and considered a waste of time. We live in a world where free is never free, and when someone wants to give you something for free, it’s highly likely you are the product.