Last updated on June 27th, 2022 at 05:22 pm
It's no secret that tech companies harvest data on a massive scale, but what are they doing with it, and what can you do to prevent it?
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Now more than ever, people are interconnected in ways that would’ve seemed impossible just one or two decades ago. The amount of information most people share with others online is unprecedented – and that only includes what is voluntarily and proactively shared by users of online email services, internet users, and social media users.
As the nature of technology continues to evolve, so does the ability for companies to extract this information and use it for a variety of purposes. Many tech companies utilize personal data for a plethora of reasons, including unique customization to ad experiences and outright selling of data to other organizations.
Many people are frankly uncomfortable with this new reality and wish to prevent their personal data from being used in such ways. How is this data being used, and what can be done to prevent excessive use of it by second and third parties? Are they tracking your kids? Keep reading to learn about your rights and options.
Google: the Biggest Offender
In the world of modern-day tech, there is arguably no bigger global presence than Google. Offering everything from search engine accessibility to emails, driving directions, and storage, it is safe to assume that this company has more personal information and data on most individuals than any other company in the world.
Some of the data-points that Google collects (depending on which services you use) include the following: name, phone number, payment information, driver’s license number, YouTube browsing history, browser and device details, search data, digital voice calls, and browsing history. While there are many intrusive companies, virtually none monitor personal internet consumption in the way that Google does.
So how can you prevent this? Unfortunately, short of eliminating Google-based services from your digital life completely, there are only a few actions you can take. First and foremost: to eliminate browsing history from being both stored and linked to your identity, use a browser other than Google Chrome. You can also opt-out of Google Ads by following select instructions – though this only addresses part of the problem.
There are varying degrees of opt-out options for most Google-provided services with regard to the use of personal data, but they vary considerably in terms of scope and flexibility. Depending on how many Google services you use, you may need to spend quite a bit of time opting out of each option – and will still likely have Google snooping, scavenging, and selling an uncomfortable amount of data regarding your habits.
Yahoo: a Data Scanning Behemoth
While no search engine truly compares to the combined reach and invasion of privacy of Google, it is nowhere close to being the only offender. Many years ago, Yahoo was well-positioned as a dominant search engine and email provider: while its position has since fallen in relative terms, its use of personal data has not.
Yahoo has rather invasive monitoring methods aimed at individual users who engage with its services. While its reach is nowhere nearly as broad as Google’s, Yahoo has also suffered multiple data breaches over the years that left millions of users exposed as their personal data, passwords, and other details were available to hackers and thieves.
Currently, Yahoo Mail is the worst offender among its services. Eliminating this service and taking appropriate measures is the best way to ensure that Yahoo isn’t utilizing personal data against your will. Services such as Setapp offer a variety of solutions and guides, including a guide on how to delete Yahoo account immediately. Setapp also offers a variety of curated iOS and Mac apps for users via subscription, with limitless access across compatible devices.
Facebook: More Than You Know
Another seemingly unavoidable tech company these days is Facebook. Harvesting an immense amount of information from its one billion-plus unique users, Facebook is making the most for its shareholders’ bottom lines – but at the expense of its users.
Some people are unaware that Facebook doesn’t just own its primary social media platform, but also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, among others. Just to put it into perspective: of the 5 most-downloaded mobile apps during the 2010s, Facebook now owns and has unfettered access to 4 of them (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp). It’s not difficult to imagine how much power over personal data such a conglomerate has in the modern era.
Fortunately, there are ways to keep your data safe from Facebook, but the options are limited. Mainly, the actions revolve around preventing your activity and browsing history from being used to target ads based on your tastes. From rumors of the company listening to voice calls and conferences conducted via its software to the level of difficulty it presents to users who wish to deactivate their accounts and remove their data, it is hard to ensure that this company won’t capitalize on your past usage of its platforms for the foreseeable future.
Amazon: the Best of the Worst
Many criticisms of the world’s largest online retailer abound, but with regard to data usage from individuals, it is far from the worst offender. Still, there are legitimate concerns for users as to how the company uses its data. On a personal level and in regards to internal usage, the company may collect everything from name and address to financial information and Social Security numbers.
Yet for the average user, most of their data mining revolves around commercial purposes for their own operations. Rather than selling data to others in the same vein that companies such as Facebook do, Amazon tends to use consumer behavior and personal info to inform ads and recommendations to its shoppers.
Search terms via the platform, purchase history, browsing history on Amazon services and reviews all get folded into the broader profile that the company keeps on users. Ultimately, this information – barring a major data breach – poses relatively little risk or threat to users when compared against other major tech companies on this list. While that may not be a complete relief, there are obviously other companies to worry more about with regard to the misuse of personal data.
Taking action to mitigate the usage of personal data for various purposes isn’t always obvious – and different companies make it less than obvious how to do so. Nevertheless, big tech companies can be thwarted in this regard through a series of actions, whether it be abstaining from use completely or opting out of select services. Now that you know, you can make the right decisions based on your preferences.
Grace is a freelance writer & digital marketing expert. She likes to write about various technology issues revolving around privacy and digital identity management.
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