Our entire lives are online. These days, that’s not an overstatement, as we’re engaging with the internet throughout the day, every day. This means that we’re logging into social media accounts and online shopping sites. We’re saving our credit card details on our browsers, websites, or other platforms, or plugging them in on an ad-hoc basis into other online stores when we want to make a quick purchase.
But we’re just getting started. There’s so much of our information online, floating around on accounts that we continue to use, as well as accounts from years ago that we’ve completely forgotten about.
So, does private data exist? How do you prevent online companies from collecting your data? When you think about it, it may seem almost impossible to do so, but it is possible.
Sources of Data
What kinds of data exist about us? Where does this data come from? Well, public records have data from the day you were born – your birth certificate, to death records, marriage certificates, voter registrations, court records.
There’s a difference between public records versus publicly available information. The latter includes all information that has been gathered from sources like newspapers, magazines, advertisements, and even telephone directories. Frankly, the list goes on. It can be very eye-opening to see what exists about you, or just about anyone else, from public records and publicly available information. Have a look at Nuwber and see how much you can dig up.
Then, we’ve got information that we sometimes take for granted and think is private. Nonpublic information is collected when you register on websites, and gathered from other sources like questionnaires, surveys, warranty registrations, IP address, the browser you use or used, the terms you’ve searched on Google, as well as your purchase histories. Yes, this is all collected and the data is saved. This also includes the people you chat to online, the places you check into on Facebook, and your public Twitter posts.
Browsers, Click Tracking, and Cookies
We’ve mentioned that data on the browser that you used is collected, but it goes deeper than that. Websites know exactly which browser you’re using, and can even tell the battery level of the device you’re browsing from! Yes, the data that can be accessed about you while online is quite staggering. Other information that your browser tells websites is the operating system that you’re using, as well as other technical specifications of your phone, laptop, and table.
Click tracking is a very special kind of data that, essentially, collects information about your behavior online and when using your devices in general. Websites collect data about you, basically watching you while you’re browsing their site. Collecting this kind of data helps them to understand a visitor psychologically and behaviorally, gathering information about what you click, your mouse or scroll movements, which page on the visit you visit next, and so on. No points for guessing that this kind of information is highly valuable for online stores, among other sites.
Delete Those Cookies
Cookies are a way of tracking your browsing activities and are placed in your browser while you’re busy online. Cookies are valuable to advertisers as these little things track you as you browse various websites. It’s one way that Facebook, for example, will show you an ad on your timeline for something that you were just searching for earlier in the day. Tailored ads are driven by data like cookies, helping advertisers learn more about you. It’s best to delete cookies from your browser every time you’re done.
By not deleting cookies, you’re providing internet providers with more data about you, which they sell (and can do so now, legally), without your consent. You’re not making a cent off of your own data!
Change Your Search Engine Settings or Use another One
This may sound daunting, but you can start by taking a few simple steps to limit how much data big organizations, advertisers, and the like gather about you. Ensure that you limit search engine tracking. Search engine tracking is when your internet searches are logged on your preferred search engine.
Start by deleting all your search history on whichever search engine you use (in addition to deleting the cookies that we mentioned).
Better yet, use another search engine! Doing some research will lead you to search engines, like DuckDuckGo, which keeps your searches private and doesn’t track you. When looking for an alternative to use, make sure to find a search engine that ticks these boxes, along with not logging your IP address or using cookies at all.
Install Privacy Extensions
Maybe you don’t want to use another browser because you’re happy with your current one and don’t want to go through the hassle of getting used to another interface, yet you still care about your privacy online. There’s a way around that. Look for a browser extension that’s privacy-focused. These extensions stop sites from tracking you or getting your information. Some privacy extensions encrypt your information so sites can’t get to it, while others block spying ads, third-party cookies, and browser fingerprinting.
Use a VPN
You’ve probably seen or heard of VPNs more often lately, and that’s mainly because more and more people are becoming aware of the fact that their anonymity is slowly being stripped while online. Using a VPN – virtual private network – is one tool that you can use to prevent companies from collecting and using your data and offers you other benefits. A VPN hides your IP address while you’re online. As your IP address is your identifier online, this proxy service keeps you anonymous.