We’ve written before about the value of personal data, both to legitimate and illegitimate entities. In an article on PCMag.com, Max Eddy lays out the various ways in which legitimate companies make money on all of us.
The whole article paints a pretty Orwellian picture if you ask me. Big Brother is out there in the form of data companies like Google and Facebook instead of a government. Its how they make a living. And, judging by the acquisitions and expansions into other areas by such companies, business is good, very good.
The sources of our personal information are, apparently, unlimited. Many records are publicly available to data-mining companies. Buying a house, renewing a driver’s license, going to court, all these sources are open books where our data can be sucked into the algorithms of these companies to be sold to others for other uses.
The primary use seems innocuous on the surface; there are companies that purchase this data to send us ads targeted to be of interest. These ads may be based on demographics, offline purchases, online activities, and so forth. The advertisers are operating under the assumption that targeted ads reflecting personal interests are more likely to be clicked on and perhaps something purchased at the other end.
Did I say offline purchases? Yes, I did. Google signed a deal with MasterCard for the purchase of offline spending patterns and data. This type of information can then be integrated with other information known about the individual for a higher level of targeting.
What can make all this even creepier? DNA data, that’s what. Imagine being able to integrate your DNA data with all the other information available about you. You could be targeted for all manner of health and ethnic goods and services. And, targeting isn’t always benign in its effects. As the article points out, what if a person with a drinking problem is continuously targeted with ads for alcohol?
The second half of the article is where the author lays out some steps we, as individuals, can take to combat this use of our data. In Europe, protections in the form of the recent General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), are one step towards combating data misuse. That is fine on a massive level, but there are ways to take personal action.
DuckDuckGo is a search engine that does not gather your data. Abine is a privacy company that offers browser plugins and services to block data collection and delete existing data. Deleting existing data won’t get it all, but on average, their service finds and deletes 1,500 pieces of information per person. As an interesting aside, the screenshot below is what popped up in Edge when I searched for DuckDuckGo. Hummm.
The article goes on and on with statistics and examples of what companies know about us and how they use it. Towards the end, the author suggests typing in your name and seeing what comes up. He also mentions looking himself up on the digital version of the old phone book, WhitePages and then going to Spokeo, an online service that helps people connect.
The founder of Abine is quoted in the article this way, putting the issue of data mining and sale into context, “If a company came to you and said ‘Fill in this form with all your personal information because we can sell it for $39,’ no rational person would agree to it.” Pretty hard to argue with that analogy.
You can take steps to protect against further data collection and even go so far as having some information deleted. But you cannot get it all. Even ditching all things digital and retiring to the woods somewhere would still leave an impressive data legacy behind.
At CRIP.TO, we believe that people, groups, and organizations have the right to communicate fearlessly, free from any concern that what they say or information they transmit may be intercepted and used without their permission. Our solutions provide you with the highest form of secure communications available. Check them out today and pre-order your own secure communications solution.
Yes, we’ll ask for some information, but it will never go beyond CRIP.TO. We fund operations from the revenues from our sales, not from selling your data. We think that makes all the difference.