You may have known that, big companies like Google, Facebook are desired to collect user data. They know you very well, in fact, more than what you can think of. They know your name, your phone number, where you live, your buying habits, what you search, your daily habits - sometimes even before you do. They are termed as Data Brokers.
You will be surprised to know that much of this data collection trade has existed for decades. Today, what has changed is the volume and nature of the data being extracted from the Internet. First, it was just the PCs and Laptops, now handheld devices like smartphones have become the main target for the companies.
Acxiom is one of the largest data-broking firms in the world. It is just one of the hundreds of companies who are peering into your personal life, collecting data that is generated from everything you do online, and much of what you do in the real world.
Why do companies collect your personal data?
They collect your data in order to build up your profile, which can be used to push you targeted ads, similar contents, products, services, etc. This has become big business now as customers are willing to pay a lot of money for such data, that can help them target specific segments of the market.
There has been an unprecedented growth of a multi-billion dollar industry of data brokers. They collect, analyze and package some of your most sensitive personal information and sell it as a commodity to businesses, advertisers, other data brokers, and even the government without letting them know.
Currently, there is no comprehensive federal regulation for data brokers. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission issued a report on protecting consumer privacy in which they recommended that Congress consider legislation overseeing online privacy, data security and breach notification, and data brokers.
How do they collect your personal data?
You may think that how it's possible to track your web movement when you traverse from one site to another. Data Brokers are specialist firms across the web. They use tools like Cookies, web beacons, e-tags and a variety of other tools.
Cookies are widely used on desktop computers. It is small pieces of code that are dropped on a user’s browser, which collect all your movement on that browser.
Where a Web beacon is a small transparent graphic image that is placed on a website or in an email and used to monitor the browsing or email-sending behavior of the user.
In the case of smartphones, most of the free apps that you happily install on your phone ask for permission to access your address book or location. We quickly and happily give it, since we are eager to use the app. This is how the apps get access to your data and steal your contact details and more.
Facebook is still facing immense regulatory and legislative scrutiny after a disastrous year of privacy scandals, most prominently the Cambridge Analytica situation and upper management catastrophes related to the company’s handling of election interference and other flagrant misuses of its platform. Those misuses include wielding Facebook’s tools as a weapon to stir racial hatred in countries torn apart by ethnic violence and the creation of an international cottage industry around fake news, propaganda, and conspiracy theory peddling. Most recently, Facebook was found to have been misusing Apple’s enterprise app program to distribute a reskinned version of its banned Onavo VPN app to teenagers, which was siphoning sensitive data, thanks to root access to those users’ iPhones in exchange for $20 a month in gift cards. Facebook took down the app and closed the program, but not before Apple gave it a slap on the wrist by revoking its enterprise certificates and causing a disruption of the company’s ability to use internal iOS software.
Google was also all too aware of when it discovered its Google+ social network had exposed data in March 2018. It found, just before the EU update to general data protection regulation (GDPR) came into place, that between 2015 and March 2018, outside developers, would have been able to potentially access personal Google+ profile data due to a software glitch in the site.
Protect your privacy
The social network had not alerted users when it discovered the breach. People have been trusting big firms such as Google and Facebook with their data for years. They have offered their location data to Google and information about their preferences to Facebook so they can be targeted with so-called ‘personalized’ advertising. But these companies are proving that they can not be trusted with people’s data.
It is very common among security concern people to take privacy issues seriously. When we hear that a particular service collects our personal data, we get extremely anxious. We will not use the services that collect personal data that are not necessary to render the service.
A few things you could do to protect your privacy online like using a VPN, frequently clear your Internet cache & cookies or better till surf in the Incognito mode, be careful what you share on social media and be aware of the pages you Like.
Use good security software to secure your device and be careful of what information you give out online. Also, be aware of Phishing emails, Social Engineering, and Identity Theft.
With GDPR regulation stipulating huge fines for firms that fail to safeguard user data, perhaps things will improve. If the likes of Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon want people to continue to use their services, they need to demonstrate how they protect data. If an event does happen, their response is what matters.
For now, it’s up to users to decide which technology companies they trust. But whatever you do, you will still be tracked! There is nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, if you are online, rest assured that you have been tracked!