Online Privacy | How Burying Your Head in the Sand Doesn’t Actually Give You Privacy

I will admit, I have never been overly concerned about online privacy.  Don’t get me wrong- I am not one to share my social security number or home address online, but I have had no problem using my smartphone to the fullest, even if that means checking boxes that say I agree to “terms and conditions”.  I will download the SpotHero app or use Starbuck’s Wi-Fi sans concern.  I very deliberately choose not to read the terms and conditions.  It’s time-consuming, I know what it’s going to say, I’d rather not know the particulars…

In fairness, plenty of online articles point to the anonymous and aggregate collection of my data.  I have been under the impression that any data collected about me was done in a way that was packaged.  The word “aggregate” is ALWAYS being thrown around in this discussion and “aggregate” doesn’t feel personal; I feel once-removed from any data being collected about me “in aggregate”.  I figured data brokers classified and assigned my IP to a particular group related to my gender, socio-economic class, location, etc.  I believed my cell phone and computer gathered my search activities where inferences could be made and targeted ads could be selected for me.

Yet, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (2016), data brokers can collect my name, user id(s), email address, age, gender, address, current location, political affiliation, religion, major life events, medical conditions, purchase history, estimated income level and more.  For the most part, what is collected about me is not inference, it is the real deal.  A dossier is built about me and sold.  The profile can be packaged and sold, but there is, in fact, a profile.  This I did not know.

One journalist, Alexis Madrigla of The Atlantic, decided to investigate how many companies were following his online clicks.  By using DoubleClick, an industry-standard ad tracker, Madrigla learned that 105 companies “ranging from Google, Microsoft and Yahoo were following his every click.”

The Belgian Privacy Commission determined that Facebook was in violation of European law because it “has authorized itself to continuously collect users’ location information, sell users’ photos for advertising purposes, and track both users’ and non-users’ browsing habits across the internet—while failing to educate users on the true extent of this ‘tracking,’ and making it prohibitively difficult for them to ‘opt-out.”


Cartoon: Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Needless to say, I am rethinking my comfort level with giving up information about myself online.  And I definitely need to audit my social media settings to ensure things are tight on that front.  Have you been surprised that online data collection was not as “aggregate” as you once thought?

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