Digital Footprint Facts: How Companies Collect Your Data
Meet Frank. He’s 28, he wears black t-shirts, and he adores his golden retriever. Frank is mildly addicted to double espresso shots from his local coffee house and The Walking Dead on AMC. He spends his days working from home in Pittsburgh and dedicates a few evenings a week to jogging.
Now you know quite a lot about Frank. Guess who else knows it all? Tech companies and advertisers do. Just because Frank is inseparable with his iPhone and Mac, he’s already left a large digital footprint. In fact, most of Frank’s life is tracked and recorded.
You might not be thinking about it much, but the same personal data collecting happens to you, too. Let’s find out how companies follow you online and what they do with the data they find.
How your private data is tracked by apps
Our buddy Frank has 72 apps on his iPhone. He can hardly imagine his life without them. How would he get up in time, order pizza, and watch funny videos, if not for his beloved apps?
Using mobile applications from dawn to dusk is quite common. The infographic below shows how apps integrate into your daily activities and what data is collected along the way. Note, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The apps mentioned below collect way more information about you, depending on how you use them and what you let them access.
When you use apps to drive somewhere or buy stuff, it’s only logical that those apps need to know your location or credit card details. However, you’d probably be surprised to learn how many other types of information they gather.
Companies normally state what data they collect (or may collect) in their privacy policies or statements. These often include dozens of categories, like your name, photos, contact information, activities within the app, personal settings, and more. All the apps mentioned in the infographic are able to collect your location, IP address, and device characteristics, according to their privacy policies.
Why do all these companies need to know so much about you? They usually explain that it’s necessary to provide and improve their products, conduct business analysis, and even innovate for social good. However, there is one more important reason they are reticent to share—data collection for targeted advertising.
How does targeted advertising work with your collected data? App developers sell the details of your online and real-life behavior to advertisers. By knowing where you’re located and what you like, marketers can show you personalized ads that are more effective at making you part with your bucks.
Does it only happen to smartphone-obsessed folks? Not really. All of your online activities give away something about your personality, and companies keep tracking you.
What companies know about you when you surf the web
Let’s get back to Frank. In the office, he uses a corporate laptop to work on job-related questions. Sometimes, Frank also looks for personal stuff, such as new t-shirts.
Returning to his work tasks, he sees clothing shop ads on all his business-related websites. When Frank surfs the web at home, all kinds of outfit retailers attack him once again. Our buddy opens the Facebook app on his iPhone—here they are, the best t-shirts in town, just for him.
How do targeted ads follow Frank everywhere, across websites and devices? Check out this short video for a simple explanation.
In a nutshell, advertisers can collect all the parts of your digital footprint with cookies and other tracking elements. You use different devices in the same location and log into the same accounts using them. This way, all your gadgets can be tied to your digital profile—and used for targeted advertising.
Eventually, data collectors build up enormous databases with nuanced profiles for any certain individual. In fact, one researcher asked an online tracking company for all of her data and received a huge report containing 5,300 rows and more than 46 columns worth of information. The records were disturbingly specific—from recent travels to preferences in bagels.
The fact that someone knows all this information about you is unnerving. The resulting targeted ads are annoying. But it doesn’t stop here. If you live in a high-income country or use an expensive device, you may be led to higher-priced goods.
Personal data collection is more than just an individual issue. For instance, Facebook has over 2.4 billion active users. Having the personal information of such a large number of people gives the social network enormous power and implies heavy social responsibility.
However, Facebook and the companies it owns are regularly involved in privacy scandals. The infamous Cambridge Analytica case is an example of a huge political manipulation based on the private data obtained through Facebook without user consent.
Moreover, no data-collection company is immune to hacker attacks and breaches. Large-scale data breaches happen regularly, and even tech leaders are not very good at handling them. At the bottom of it all, you risk losing your personal details to some cybercrooks.
That’s just terrible, right? Luckily, you can fight private data tracking and its consequences.
What you can do to minimize tracking and ads
You deserve control over what’s collected about you and what’s displayed to you online. At MacKeeper, we work on solutions that help prevent personal data tracking and irritating ad appearance. Check out StopAd—our new tool for making your web experience better. It’s easy to use and can be customized for specific websites.
By the way, Frank is already using MacKeeper. StopAd lets him surf the web faster and avoid aggressive ads easily. He has peace of mind because his online activities aren’t tracked anymore.
Want to join him?