Browsing Privacy Versus Data Brokers

Cynthia was overjoyed when she found a ‘steal’ on her booking to Maui — her dream destination.

Then something funny happened: Everywhere she went online, ads for Hawaii were popping up. Then her inbox began getting slammed by spam from companies she’d never heard of before planning her vacation.

When you’re surfing online, maybe curled up on the sofa, it’s easy to feel like everything you do on the internet is private – just between you and the website.

It’s not, though.

“Online” and “Privacy” are NOT Synonyms

Every Google search you make, each chat message you send, and every purchase you make online is recorded and saved on a computer somewhere!

And that leads to a couple of really good questions:

  1. Who is storing the data?
  2. What do they do with it?

Life is fast nowadays – and it’s stressful. We don’t have time to write letters, go to the library for research or meet people in person.

Consequently, more and more of our lives are online: We find information, send emails, engage in chats, exchange photos, watch videos and stay in touch with others… without ever leaving the house.

And one of the most time-saving online activities is shopping. The largest retailer in the world (Amazon) doesn’t own a SINGLE storefront.

It’s an amazing world we’re living in – and a world full of footprints. Everywhere we go, someone is tracking us.

Browsing Privacy Versus Data Brokers

Someone is tracking your every move online

For instance… do you have a Google account?  Google tracks virtually every online action you take: all of your searches, all the places you viewed in Google Maps, every chat message, every email you sent or received – nothing you do goes unnoticed.

Think of the information, pictures and videos you share on your social networks. Did you know that companies (like Facebook) sell info about your online activities to other companies and advertisers?

Your data and pictures flow to data brokers from social networks and Internet companies.

Who are data brokers and what do they do?

You’re not aware, but each day, your online activities profile is being built by people you’ve never met.

Data brokers collect everything from your name, age and address to your phone numbers, your likes-dislikes, the pages you visit and content you share.

Intelius, Spokeo, Acxiom, and BeenVerified are just a few of the thousands of data brokers hounding you. They sell data about you to anyone who wants it – even to individuals.

A CBS News report found that, on average, data brokers have about 1,500 pieces of information in every folder – and every folder has someone’s name on it. They know plenty about you, but you know nothing about them.

Who oversees these data brokers?


What do companies do with the data?

Technology has made world a Global village and big companies are taking advantage of that accessibility. As part of their business intelligence strategy, they collect large amounts of data and use it to target consumers, based on their demographic and personal data.

Companies keep track of your purchase history and bombard you with interest-related customized messages and emails. With specific data bought from data brokers at hand, these advertisers can easily find target age groups, locations and tastes to market their goods.

Have you been followed by ads after looking at something on Amazon? That’s an example of data brokerage.

Why should you care about data brokerage?

Marketing is one thing, but there’s another side to the issue: Your privacy is being compromised. You are being tracked constantly.

Moreover, big data might affect our social, political and cultural lives. Kord Davis, writing about the ‘Ethics of Big Data’ said this: “The challenge on the flipside of that is the risk of unintended consequences.”

While most companies are rushing to cash in on data collection, there are some working hard to prevent it. Here’s a tweet quote from privacy advocate Sudo App: “If it’s on the internet, it isn’t private.”

Smart gadgets, smart cars, smart wearable’s and the already omnipresent smartphone — more and more of your personal data is going to be up for grabs.

Do you care?

Freelance writer Abel Cane lives and works in the Pacific Northwest. Get in touch with Abel on Twitter via @boomalive.

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