Online data privacy has become a hot topic in light of a recent Facebook scandal in which a data analysis firm called Cambridge Analytica collected personal information from over 50 million Facebook users without obtaining permission from the social media powerhouse.
This error has many internet users questioning how safe their information is online. We're here to fill you in on internet privacy in the United States today and to offer suggestions for keeping your information as private as possible.
How private is your online data in 2018?
The short answer is that your online privacy is very limited. In fact, internet giants like Google and Facebook are tracking your online activity every time you use their platforms. From web browser activity to emails and social media posts, information about you is constantly being collected.
This is not necessarily a bad thing; however, it can be worrisome that a majority of your online activity can not simply be erased. For example, even if you delete your Facebook account, your history on Facebook will not disappear. That information is stored through the platform — whether it is searchable or not.
Who is using this information?
If you are wondering about the real-world applications internet data mining has, you may be surprised to know just how many private companies have access to your online information. By accepting the terms and conditions of online entities, we are also accepting their privacy policies, which often include disclosures about information sharing. Here are some examples of companies that collect our data and share it with third parties.
If you have access to the internet, there's a high chance you've used a search engine before. It's no secret that major players like Google track our search history. This allows them to personalize search results, decide which advertisements show up in browsers and much more. Google also has the ability to provide personal information it collects about us to other parties, and we have little-to-know knowledge of what these parties use our data for.
Tech Devices & Apps
In today's digital world, most of us regularly use devices like smart phones, computers and tablets. These devices are also storing data collected from our activity on them. This news can be particularly alarming when we consider how much of our personal information is stored in our phones and computers. From photos to account passwords, our devices often carry sensitive information. Companies like Apple do say that third parties are obligated to protect your information. However, there is no clear proof that this is being enforced.
One of the most influential ways companies use your data is to influence you to buy products or services. Think about how often you visit a company's website, then start to see their ads pop up more frequently as you browse the internet. It's no coincidence that advertisers are able to use your internet history to reach you.
Social Media Platforms
The Cambridge Analytica incident is surely not an isolated case. Third party companies are regularly accessing valuable data through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Social media companies are also using your data to alter your experience on their platforms. It's a good practice to keep in mind that the types of content you see on your Facebook newsfeed, for example, are often shown because they match your personal preferences or interests based on your profile activity.
How to protect your data privacy
While it is not possible to delete information previously collected about you, there are some measures you can take to start increasing your privacy online. Here are a few ways to protect yourself:
Update Your Device Settings
Check the settings on your phone, computer and any other devices you use. This will help you gain an understanding of which apps are constantly collecting data from your device. Make sure to take a look at your privacy settings and opt out of data sharing services where you can. On Apple products, for instance, they automatically share analytics unless you toggle this setting off. They include a disclaimer explaining that they only use this data to improve products and services; however, if privacy is your main goal, it might be safe to turn analytics sharing off.
Change Your App Permissions
You should also update your settings for individual apps like Facebook. Turn off data sharing under privacy settings and opt out of "personalization" services that alter the content you see based on your app history. In apps that connect to other applications, you should disable sharing with any apps you do not think are trustworthy.
For example, have you ever taken a silly quiz through an app like Facebook? If so, you may recall having to login first with your Facebook account to do so. That quiz app has likely been able to pull information about you from Facebook because you logged in with your profile. We recommend disabling access to your account on these kinds of apps.
Be Cautious Online
The best way to keep your personal information private is to not share it online. A good rule of thumb is to not share anything online that you would not want those in your professional life to see. You can also use caution online by:
- Using private or 'incognito' browsing options
- Logging out of apps when they are not in use
- Turning off location tracking services
- Opting out of free surveys or services
As your All Things Internet™ experts, we strive to help you understand the ever-changing digital landscape. Head over to our blog for more tips and tricks for improving your privacy and security, and contact us today for expert online business solutions.