How to Protect Your Privacy From The Big Companies That Collect Your Data
Data is the most precious commodity of the 21st century, even more valuable than oil, and that’s saying something in our still oil-dependent economy. Data, especially when it’s properly sorted, can be used to train AI and develop better machine learning algorithms, and that’s what will give most companies their competitive edge in the future.
Google itself collects a frightening amount of data on you, including your search patterns, purchase habits, your traveling, etc. The company’s standing is that it does to improve user experience. Facebook already has a lot of personal data about its 2.7 billion users, but it also tracks more than what people share willingly on the platform.
At its core, personal data is any identifiable information about you. That includes your name, age, email address, ID, gender, address, contact number, face, family members, etc. But big companies want to collect much more than that about you. They want to know what your favorite food, what you purchase, where you are buying it from, your yearly income, other spending habits, etc. Some of the most accessible forms of personal data that big companies can get their hands on are your IP address and location data.
Most people wouldn’t mind if this data is used for benign reasons, but it’s usually not. There are several ways organizations abuse the data they have on you. The recent scandals regarding TikTok have rekindled people’s fears about their data being mishandled and abused, but it’s not alone. Your personal data can be used to create your psychographic profile, predict your purchasing decisions, identify your political affiliations, and group you based on your ethnicity and sexual orientation. Personal data abuse can even lead medical marketers to you based on your illnesses and disabilities, even less known ones like eating disorders.
Three Ways How Your Data is Collected and How You Can Prevent It
There are several methods and techniques big companies employ when they collect your data. But thankfully, you can take steps to prevent or at least mitigate this intrusion and invasion of privacy.
1. In-Store or Public WiFi Activity
There are millions of public WiFi hotspots around the globe, 362 million to be exact, as of 2019. Whether you are sitting in a Starbucks, waiting for your plane in an airport, or out shopping, connecting to a public WiFi seems to make more sense than wasting your data. The problem is that public WiFis are exposed, open to all, and anyone can connect to them. It’s an ideal opportunity for hackers to gather essential and sensitive personal information from people sharing that public network. But it’s not just hackers. Companies might have more leeway towards collecting your personal data when exposed via an open internet connection.
The solution is to encrypt your data using a VPN. It would ensure that personal data like your IP address, physical location, and network activity is secure from prying eyes. It also encrypts your data, making it harder for big companies to collect additional information about you to create a more potent consumer/psychometric profile.
2. Meta-Data from Social Media Activity
Billions of people use social media every day. They post pictures from their phones, write comments, share videos, and engage and connect with others. What they don’t know is that the data they are uploading might have a lot of meta-data, which tells social media platforms more about you than you are willing to divulge. As the name suggests, meta-data is basically data about data, and it’s usually invisible to you. It can include geo-location tags on the pictures, time stamps for images and videos, and camera/phone identification numbers.
The simplest solution to this problem is limiting permissions of your photo and social media apps. You can turn-off geo-tagging and time-stamp from your mobile phone, and the rest can be handled by modifying the social medial platform’s privacy settings.
3. Facial Recognition Systems
Big companies, especially phone companies, now know you by face thanks to their facial recognition screen locking features. Social media platforms already use this technology to identify users from the pictures they share and can profile and collect data on their users’ social circles from group photos. Deep fake is another privacy concern that connects with facial recognition.
There are many solutions under development that can help users prevent their personal images and videos from being abused by facial recognition systems. Regulatory bodies are also working to resolve privacy concerns surrounding these systems. What you can do is limit the reach of your personal images. Make sure your personal images on social media platforms are only visible to the people you trust.
Your data is simply a commodity for big companies, so they can’t be expected to be purely ethical with it. They will only be as careful with your data as they need to be to stay on the right side of the law. It’s your job to educate yourself about privacy, how your personal data can be accessed and abused, and what you can do to protect that. Adopting good cybersecurity habits and limiting your digital footprint can go a long way towards protecting your precious personal data.