You may be wondering why it’s a big deal for so many companies to have access to your data. Unless you’re a public figure, most people find it hard to wrap their heads around why it is wrong for so many companies to know so many things about you.
The amount of personal data we have online is frightening, mostly because it doesn’t just stay there. It affects our life outside the internet too. But how does this work and how exactly do companies get their hands on your information?
How Do Advertisers Get Your Data?
There are several ways that advertisers get a hold of your personal data—both online and offline.
Most frequently, your data is acquired through website cookies, account creation, memberships, or single sign-on practices. Other times, it’s through lead magnets like email lists, webinar sign-up sheets, giveaways, and freebies.
Data acquired through online means can be anything: your full name, contact details, personal address, credit card details, or other forms of metadata. Together, this information can be used to understand things such as your socio-economic status, credit information, lifestyle, and purchasing habits.
While it used to be possible for users to opt-out of data gathering practices easily when they go offline, these days it’s not so straightforward. With the rise of wearables and smart home technology requiring your data in exchange for important functionalities has become very common.
Aside from your smartphones, some common devices that regularly gather your data are smart speakers, smart cameras, smart scales, fitness watches, VR headsets, pocket printers, and so on.
Data gathered through these various types of hardware compliment the information which is already available through your online profiles, which help create a better picture of you as a consumer and person.
Why You Should Care About Data Collection
Unfortunately, this picture of you granted to advertisers through granular data isn’t always used to benefit your shopping habits. It can also affect your access to services, dynamic product pricing, and expose you to questionable content when you’re vulnerable.
Most online advertising is harmless for now. Most companies acquire your data to find out what, where, and when they should sell you their products or services. If you enjoy getting ads for relevant products that you would to love to have in your home, it’s not entirely a bad thing.
However, there are a growing number of red flags telling us we should be wary of it already. With time, granular personal data has been used for more nefarious means.
There have been an increasing number of reported cases of personal data being weaponized and used to affect insurance premiums, credit scores, establishing social ranking systems, identitify theft, harassment, and even political radicalization.
How to Reduce How Much Data Advertisers Have on You
Regardless of how your data is collected, there is no perfect answer to how much is okay. However, it is fair to be concerned about what data is being collected by advertisers. At the end of the day, you have to decide how much data is fair to share for the experiences you want to have, especially when you’re using free services.
That being said, it’s important to understand that it’s almost impossible to have no data online at all. Thankfully, it is possible to reduce how much data is attributed to you as an individual. If you’re investigating options for reducing how much data advertisers have on you, here are some quick tips.
Avoid Browser Extensions
Many browsers have been developing different ways to prevent advertisers from tracking your online activities. However, you may be making their efforts futile by installing extensions that bypass restrictions. In addition, browser extensions that are not regularly updated by developers put your device at risk for various security issues.
Manage Your Mailing Lists
Instead of giving your email address to everyone who asks, consider using temporary email services for companies you don’t ever want to hear from again.
Unless it’s absolutely necessary, you can also use a fake email. Or better yet, use email tricks like to find out who is responsible for selling your data, such as adding +CompanyName to your Gmail when signing up.
For example, if your email is firstname.lastname@example.org, you can put test+CompanyName@gmail.com instead. You’ll still be able to receive your mail and know which company sold your details.
Reject Identifying Requests
Make it a habit to reject website cookies. If the websites you are visiting require it, do your best to seek alternative options. While many companies insist that it’s necessary for their site experience, most of the time this is not true. Aside from this, try to disable any IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) for your mobile device.
For iPhone users, you can go to Settings > Privacy > Apple Advertising and toggle off Personalized Ads.
While on Android, you can go to Settings > Privacy > Ads. Next, toggle on Opt out of Ads Personalization.
Decentralize Your Data
Aside from cleaning your existing accounts, you should also consider further decentralizing your personal data by creating new emails for different purposes, using secure messaging platforms, logging out of accounts regularly, and using anonymous payment methods.
Opt Out of Data Brokers
Data brokers are like the kingpins of online personal data trade. In the dark corners of the internet, they quietly buy and sell information about you without ever letting you know. While there are plenty of ways to opt out of their databases for yourself, it can be incredibly confusing and time-consuming.
Pay for Apps
While no one really wants to hear this, one of the best ways to opt out of advertisers having access to your data and ads in general is to simply pay for apps.
Most tech companies are businesses, not charities or non-profits. For this reason, unless you’re willing to shell out money, you should expect to pay for their services through interacting with their ads or giving up your data.
However, if you already pay for a subscription, you should have additional power to say no to additional monetization strategies that companies employ.
It Is Not Just Advertisers Who Want Your Data
While many companies swear that your data is anonymized or grouped together before being processed, the reality is these data privacy practices vary greatly across service providers.
With government regulations always one step behind, not all companies are required or incentivized to invest appropriately in data security. So, despite their best efforts, there is no guarantee that these companies are not at risk of experiencing a security breach themselves.
If you are serious about protecting your privacy, you need to use the right apps to do it. Here are five apps you need to consider for everyday use.
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