Did you know that data is being collected about you online at this very moment? There is a large chance that you were not aware of this privacy conundrum. Perhaps you are now thinking about why this is being done, and how? You could also be pondering whether this is being done in a safe, ethical, and moral way. Even still, you may now be suspicious after the fact. All of these are reasonable inquiries and sound logic on your part. In fact, these are questions that millions of people ask every day and are also the reason why courts are filled with cases involving data abuse and misuse.
The world surrounding online data collection has grown so large, so complex, and often so confusing that it is understandable for people to avoid the subject completely. To put this into perspective, even the most hardened lawyers and most powerful corporations are having a tough time with the topic of data collection practices. Why is this? There are numerous reasons, and to be able to answer these questions satisfactorily, we need to dig into several facets of online privacy. We will then conclude with what you need to do and what you realistically can do about data collection.
What is Online Data Collection?
Online data collection, as we said earlier, is a gargantuan and highly perplexing topic even for professionals well-versed in the matter. One reason for this is that it is a controversial topic that is changing the way the tech industry operates. Adding to that, it is not just the tech industry that is affected, but most modern industries that collect data for some reason or other. The other reason is that legislation is making it extremely difficult for large corporations, web publishers, marketers, and data harvesters to comply with new rules and regulations that aim to protect citizens’ data.
Data collection is a practice that any organization or institution or enterprise can undertake these days. This can be consumer-related data. For instance, any business that operates online will have some form of consumer data collection taking place by default. To clarify this, understand that every business has customers, and today most businesses have an internet component. A business has to retain data about its customers, as well as collect data to profile customers in order to better market their products and conduct more beneficial research. A digital marketing company, for instance, must measure and analyze such data to gain optimal market insights and user profiles. Other businesses such as data brokers rely massively on data collection, which is how they generate a large portion of their turnover.
In a nutshell, we can say online data collection is a modern business requisite that entails measuring, gathering, and analyzing data from various relevant sources in order for that data to benefit research and operational purposes. Furthermore, how is this data collected? Online data collection takes place in several ways; online surveys, emails, texts, virtual panels, and much more.
How to Curb Data Being Collected About You Online
Online data collection works as a business model and generates billions of dollars in revenue for companies in the U.S. alone. However, it is when that business model transcends into “overreach” that we start to have problems. Most customers, for instance, are not aware that they are being tracked via browser cookies or profiled on online shopping websites. This takes place via various third-party scripts and data collection software on the internet, in the background, on almost every single web page you visit (via trackers). Data collected about you can range from what websites you are visiting, the devices you use, your transaction history, even your location and any demographic information about you. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of it is that even the movement of your mouse is recorded.
Let’s go with an example. Over the past years, large corporations like Facebook have been involved in scandals precisely because they have overreached and breached the privacy of millions of people. This has led to court cases and millions in penalties and fines imposed by the courts. The case was about how Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to peruse the vast amounts of customer information stored about their customers for political ends. This led to Facebook completely overturning its brand values and company image, because they were at fault. As a result, the arrival of a slew of privacy legislation such as the U.S.’s CCPA and the EU’s much more comprehensive GDPR now means that large corporations putting growth and profits above customer privacy can accrue heavy fines in the tens of millions of dollars range, and with that, a sharp loss in customers.
Then again, what does this mean for you? It means that you need to appreciate and safeguard your privacy on today’s out-of-control internet. This does not only mean fine-tuning your social media habits as well as your app security and privacy settings but getting up-to-scratch on cybersecurity and online privacy.
What you can do at this very moment to vastly change the way your data is collected online is download a few copies of some software, opt out of some online ads, and fine-tune your browser. First, you want to protect your internet connection at the core while anonymizing yourself online with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Secondly, you can do an online search (perhaps avoid the Google Search engine for its data collection practices and use DuckDuckGo) for how to opt-out of online marketing and advertising. Finally, you should be using a privacy-aware browser such as Mozilla Firefox or Brave Browser. Because a browser is your first point of contact with the internet, it can leak a lot of information about you. Alternative browsers will allow you to stop cookie tracking, reduce your online fingerprint and stay securely connected while browsing.
With these measures in place, you will effectively be blocking a whole bunch of online trackers and other data collection algorithms (thousands of them). At the end of the day, it is key that you understand your right to privacy and enshroud yourself in a protective bubble away from data collection vultures prowling the internet to maximize the profit of large corporations to no end.