This week, John Oliver of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” aired an eye-opening segment on the world of data brokers and how easy it is to create a very detailed profile about an individual simply from their online browsing history. We suggest watching that segment (which can be found on YouTube) but we also wanted to touch base on this topic ourselves and explain what happens, why this happens, and what you can do to browse safely (and privately) online.
There are really five clear ways data brokers capture your information online. The first is browser cookies. A cookie is a piece of information that a website stores on your device that it can than retrieve at a later time. Most websites you visit now ask you to give them permission to store cookies and most of us do so without thinking about it because the process of declining can be complicated (or perhaps you won’t be allowed on the site without doing so).
Data brokers both buy these cookies and also place cookies on your devices themselves, which allows them to offer you highly targeted advertising. We have two solutions to this once, Chrome and Firefox both have “Do Not Track” options which will not allow the cookies to track you from site to site. There’s also a browser extension called Ghostery which gives you the option of blocking trackers.
The second way data brokers are able to obtain information about you is through mobile applications. Many mobile applications that are “free” are not really free, you’re paying for them through the wealth of information that’s gained about you, such as your GPS data or even your private pictures and videos on your device (as many of these applications ask for “permission” for every service on your phone).
The solution to this one is to always research the applications you download on your phone, and never give them more permissions than they need. That “white noise” application you downloaded does not need permission to your location data for instance.
The third way may seem obvious if you stop to think about it, social media. Data brokers will scrape social media sites for information about you to “complete” their profiles on you. The easiest way to combat this is to think twice about what you’re sharing online, information such as your birthdate or where you work not only put you at risk for receiving very targeted spam – it’s also a cyber security hazard.
The fourth way is just public records. Court documents, census data, property records, vehicle registration records, marriage and divorce records are all public and all available to data brokers at their leisure. The best way to combat this one is to address the other ones we’ve mentioned so they cannot use this information combined with the above to create a highly detailed information package on you (a singular piece of data is less useful than a full picture). You can also sign up for alerts from Google so if your name is mentioned on the web you’ll be notified.
The fifth way may surprise you, but it’s your credit card company. Data brokers are able to buy your “anonymized” credit card data directly from your credit card company. They can then combine this data with receipts they may have accessed in other ways and your social media posts “Look at what I just bought!” and voila, data brokers now know how you’re spending your money (and what they should try to sell you next).
There Isn’t a good way to combat the last one and it illustrates the point the best, we need more restrictions on how our data is used and who is allowed to collect it. Some states are leading the way with this, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) which gives consumers more control over their online data (and the ability to remove it).
We’ve created this chart to give you five things you can do RIGHT NOW to protect your privacy online.
While there are steps we can take to protect ourselves, more needs to be done to protect our privacy as we browse online. Privacy is also a concern for business owners and the businesses they run, if you would like to learn more about how Valley Techlogic can help schedule a consultation today.
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This article was powered by Valley TechLogic, an IT service provider in Atwater, CA. You can find more information at https://www.valleytechlogic.com/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/valleytechlogic/ . Follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/valleytechlogic.
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