With the recent news about Facebook leaking private data to third parties, many people have begun to wake up and discover that many of the “free” apps they use online actually harvest and sell their data (even though we’ve been saying the same thing for years). And many people are unhappy about it.
It’s sobering when we consider just how much information companies like Google and Facebook collect from you.
What Google knows
Google collects a lot of data about you when you use their services, such as Gmail and YouTube.
This data includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Your location information: If you have location tracking turned on, Google stores your location every time you turn on your phone.
- All of your emails: If you use Gmail, Google stores every email you send.
- Everything you’ve searched for: Google stores your search history across all your devices.
- Your personal information: Google makes its by selling your information to advertisers, so they can target advertisements to you. Your advertisement profile includes your location, gender, age, hobbies, career, interests, relationship status, and income.
- The apps you use: Not only does Google know which apps you use, they know how often you use them, where you use them, and whom you interact with.
- All of your YouTube history: Google stores all of your YouTube history.
But that’s not all. Google also collects and stores all your bookmarks, contacts, Google Drive files (including files you’ve deleted), photos, Google hangout sessions, the music you listen go, your Google groups, and more.
It’s a massive amount of data on each user. Want to see what exactly they know about you? You can see it here: google.com/takeout.
What Facebook Knows
Facebook knows nearly as much as Google, if not more.
- Your webcam and microphone: Facebook has access to both.
- Your browsing history: Facebook tracks which websites you visit even when you are not using Facebook.
- The apps you use: Facebook also tracks which apps you use, what you use them for, your calendar, and your call history.
Facebook tracks every message you’ve sent or received over Facebook, every file you’ve sent or received, and all the applications you’ve ever had connected to your Facebook account. They can access your photos and videos, your music, your search history, and even what radio stations you listen to.
Click here to see what data Facebook has collected on you: https://www.facebook.com/help/131112897028467
Why this should alarm you
Google, Facebook, and other online companies know massive amounts about each of us. Until now, many of us didn’t seem to have a problem with that.
This personal information, should it fall into the wrong hands, could be used against you. You say you’re not a terrorist, so why did you google “Isis” 10 years ago?
The bottom line is that each of us must be responsible for our own privacy. The first step is getting clear about what companies like Google and Facebook know about us.
Next, ask yourself some of the following questions:
Are you comfortable with companies knowing so much intimate details about you? Are you comfortable knowing that these companies own that information about you and can basically do what they want with it? Would you still be comfortable knowing that this information is subject to subpoena by the government or civil suits? Would you be comfortable if a future employer or an ex-spouse was able to access this information?
Each of us must decide for ourselves how much personal information we are comfortable letting companies know about us. Some of us may conclude that it’s fair to exchange this information for using their services for free.
Others of us may think it’s not a good deal and decide that our personal data is more important and that we should have control over it.
How to protect yourself from identity theft
This brings us to identity theft, the other main way in which our personal data can be exploited. Much of the identity theft that is currently in the news is about the ways in which corporations have suffered massive data breaches. Unfortunately, there is not much that we can do about that.
But many of us are at risk of identity theft because we don’t protect our own data. Nearly 41 million people in the U.S. have been victims of identity theft at some point in their lives. Getting serious about our online privacy also means getting serious about not exposing ourselves to online risks.
Below are some general tips for increasing our online security:
- Use complex, strong passwords for all your online accounts, change them frequently, and do not share them with anyone.
- Keep your computer, mobile phone, browser, and security software optimized by installing updates.
- Limit the amount of personal information you post line and maximize your privacy settings on Facebook and other social websites to avoid sharing your private information with too many people.
- Use a VPN like Private WiFi to encrypt all your personal data. This encryption protects all your Internet communication from being intercepted by others in WiFi hotspots.
Each of us needs to decide if we are comfortable with companies such as Google and Facebook collecting vast amounts of information about us and our online habits. And each of us is ultimately responsible for our online privacy. We get something by being constantly connected and allowing companies to track us. The question we must ask ourselves is whether the price we pay for this connection is too high.