Think what you search for online is somewhat private? Not at all.
Most all search engines and website operators these days are collecting every bit of information about your private and sometimes intimate searches in the name of customizing your online experience. The question is, what else are they doing with your intimate search queries? In most instances, the data is being sold to data brokers to inturn buy, sell, or use. Users’ search activity combined with buying profiles is a very valuable commodity.
Unbeknownst to most users, Windows 10 can give your data to anyone, including the government, without asking you because when you installed the newest version of Windows, you agreed to Microsoft’s right to distribute your data by virtue of clicking the “I agree” in the 12,000 word Service Agreement. Of course, you may be able to “opt out” of some data sharing, but only if you know it’s an option. According to the link below, even if you opt-out, Microsoft can still collect your data.
No one bothers to read the license agreement because it’s too long and nearly impossible to comprehend without a lawyer. Besides, we just can’t wait to start using our new software.
So, what happens to all the data (on line searches, site visits, browsing history, purchases, etc. ) that’s collected by Google, Microsoft and many other reputable companies? How is it used to benefit or harm the consumer? What is data analysis?
According to YourDictionary.com, “Data analysis is defined as the researching, organizing, and changing data in order to bring out the useful information.”
Companies that call you offering special deals have likely used the data to decide if you are a prospective buyer or “sucker.” If you receive a call, there’s a good chance you will buy based on their analysis of your demographics, site visits, and purchase history for similar items or services. According to The Atlantic…
“It’s a sucker list. And people will buy that information for all different kinds of reasons.”
Some marketers take advantage of people with less than ideal credit, enticing them to make additional poor decisions that prolong high debt. For example, it you have ever had or considered a payday loan, you will likely be called with offers to take on another loan even when you did not solicit one.
Is Google or any government agencies doing anything about protecting the data it collects? Consumer protection is weak when it comes to effective policing of data merchants. It’s pretty difficult to protect data when it’s sold many times over and ends up in the hands of unscrupulous data merchants.
You may not think you gave away any meaningful info in your last site visit or online purchase, but BIG data can collect and piece together all sorts of odds and ends to create a profile on you that will allow merchants to project your buying potential.
What you watch on Netflix or Amazon may also be fair game for marketers. For example, Netflix shares your personal user data with the “Netflix family of companies” as needed for: “…data processing and storage; providing you with access to our services; providing customer support; making decisions about service improvements, content development; …” Multiple handlers of your data increases the chance of hackers gaining access to your data. Hackers can then sell your data online almost immediately.
Data that can be pieced together to create a useable profiles about you includes: how large are my purchases, how often do I buy from this site and that one, do I pay for overnight delivery, am I an Amazon Prime member, which credit card do I use, do I pay off my credit cards each month, how large a balance do I run on my cards, where do I eat out (they don’t need your credit card info) they can track the names of the restaurants because GPS data from your smartphone is typically collected.
This author recalls a few years ago when he bragged that he always paid cash at restaurants because he did not want data companies to know where he ate, was upstaged by a friend who asked, “Do you have your smartphone with you when you go out to eat”? If so, they (BIG data) knows exactly where and at what time you ate dinner. (author’s true story).
Not much can be done to protect one’s privacy when it comes to Internet activity. It all seems to be fair game based on users agreeing to virtually anything just to gain site access or to use a program. In most instances, we don’t know, understand, or care about the Terms of the Agreement, we just want access NOW!
When you are searching for something that you want to keep more private, here are a few things you can do to keep your future web searches more private and not impacted by your past search history.
Mac or PC Google Chrome users:
- Don’t be logged into any Google product (gmail, etc) while you are searching from Chrome. (If you’re logged in, they can easily connect your browsing activity to your user account)
- Select File / Incognito to start a private browsing session. This will not collect or share any previous search data (cookies) on your during your incognito browsing session.
- From the Chrome menu, you can also select “Clear Browsing Data” to periodically clear your past browsing history, temporary files and stored cookies which will keep your past web searches from impacting new ones.
PC / Internet Explorer (IE) users:
- Don’t be logged into any Microsoft product (hotmail, etc) when you are searching from IE. (If you’re logged in, they can easily connect your browsing activity to your user account)
- From the PC Start menu, select Control Panel, then Network and Internet, then Internet Options, then Internet Properties, at which point you can delete Browsing History, Temporary Files, and adjust Browsing Security levels and Privacy Levels (cookies). Periodically clear your past browsing history, temporary files, and stored cookies which will keep your past web searches from impacting new ones.
- Keep your AntiVirus and AntiMalware software and files/databases up-to-date. Set security scans and updates to “Daily” to ensure you catch the very latest threats.
Consider using Google Chrome vs. Internet Explorer for a safer and faster Internet Browsing experience.
Best Personal VPN: For $40 a year (or $7 a month), Private Internet Access encrypts your Web activity over public Wi-Fi networks and masks your IP address with an anonymous one. You can use it on five devices at once.
Do keep in mind that even if you are web surfing in “incognito” mode, and clear your browsing history, your Internet Service Provider can still see every website, web search and all the web content you view or download.
Bottom line–your online usage can be used against you–so be careful.