Online Companies collecting data

79% of online companies collected data from Internet users in the US, revealed a study by privacy experts in 2020.

If Peppa Pig is your pastime choice, so be it; but for the ads, you didn’t turn on some feature to intentionally get spammed by them, did you. So, what led to it? YouTube just collected your personal data and used it to personalise your web surfing experience.

Peppa Pig is just a crude example, and a harmless one at that, but online companies are only too fond of collecting private and sensitive information and peddling it to data vendors.

In this article, you will read about how online companies collect your personal data and how you can prevent them from doing so.

Types of data

A billion pieces of information on gazillion Internet users is floating around in logs and clouds of a company’s central servers; there’s bound to be some types they can use to categorise your data. What are those data types?

Personal data

Anything associated with personal data includes PII, your Personally Identifiable Information. So, what is PII? Name, address, phone numbers, credit card numbers, social security number, passport information, driver’s licence, public records, etc. To summarise, everything that helps in identifying you as you.

Engagement data

Engagement data consists of user engagement with the service/website, frequently visited pages, call-to-action button presses, ticket history, customer support interaction records. So in simple words, it is data that comprises your engagement with the company. Phone calls also count.

Behavioral data

This is tracking a consumer’s repeated behavior that occurs with the company. Clicks on buttons and pages, financial information used, product pages visited frequently.

Attitudinal data

Data that comprises consumer’s reaction to the company’s service. User reviews, products that are selling more, satisfied and dissatisfied responses from customers.

Websites known for collecting big data

As of 2021, Amazon boasts 310 million active users and 90 million Prime users, according to one statistic. That means Amazon has the names, addresses, phone numbers, preferences and likes, search histories, financial information, and so much more of 310 million people around the globe. Just imagine what’s going to happen if a massive data breach occurs. That’s an information leak that’s going to keep countless people awake at night, not to mention the dip Amazon will face with competitors and the disrepute from customers.

HP and Microsoft are also giants of data collection, with almost every computer in the world being driven by their technology, software, and operating systems. Privacy policy laws have enough loopholes for these companies to get the data they desire while they have discreetly promised not to.

That brings us to everyone’s favourite – Google. Now tell me, which Internet user exists who hasn’t used Google at least once in their life. Even Apple users are now using Google Chrome. Excluding all the other mega-corporations and just considering Google, with the amount of data Google collects, it has the potential to force the world into an Orwellian dystopia with the Big Brother spying potential it has. It also has a big fat bank account. Because of this, many users opt for alternative search engines like DuckDuckGO, which is famous for not recording or collecting user data.

These are some famous services everyone engages with, but every other website that you use will collect your data too. We mean it, literally every website.

General data collection knowledge

Privacy policy

Privacy policies have a bitter relationship with governments. While it’s a little uncertain whether the governments want to protect citizens’ privacy or their own, privacy policies are those nasty little buggers that get your legal consent to collect your sensitive information and use it at their leisure. The most crucial lines of privacy policy documents are barely readable with their ant-sized font size. If you manage to magnify it, the legal terms and technicalities will leave your head spinning. It’s better to avoid signing up on every other platform; it’s just an open invitation for those services to collect your data. And deactivate your account if you no longer use it because they still have permission to record your activity even when you don’t use their service.

Cookies

Cookies are the sidekicks of the privacy policy. Receiving cookie popups that cover the whole page is annoying, but don’t click accept just yet. Cookies are trackers that are stored in your web browser. These record your browsing activity on their parent website and parcel back that information to the company. Accept cookies from services relevant to you and periodically clear cookies of your web browser.

SSL certification

SSL certificates encrypt your correspondence on websites. Website addresses with HTTPS, with the S at the end, and not HTTP, are SSL-certificated websites. Your connection to these websites is secure. Use unsecured websites if necessary but don’t store credentials or sensitive information there, it can cost you a lot.

Browser controls

Activity controls page

This is Chrome-specific, although other browsers have similar functions. Search ‘Activity controls’ and you’ll get to the settings that allow you to turn on and off toggles that stop Google from collecting certain data like giving personalised ads, location tracking, web search history.

Turn off ads

This brings us to ads. Install an adblocker if the Activity controls do nothing for you. Companies collect information in the name of personalising your web experience, which more or less means flooding you with ads based on your search history. Incognito mode is good if you don’t want your search history to be recorded. Receiving phone numbers or strange names in the form of ads? This is highly unusual but you can use Nuwber to look up the identity or source.

Permissions

This is more exclusive to smartphones. Location permission, storage access, call access, media access are some permissions that websites and apps are now required to ask before you can proceed. Be smart with which website you give permission to.

It’s inevitable; using the Internet is synonymous with sharing data. But you can minimise the data that you share using the information in this article.

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